ES School District office

School District Unmasks New COVID Policies

ES School District office
Excelsior Springs School District Offices

While surrounding school districts have struggled to keep their doors open amid a surge in COVID-19 related illness, Excelsior has found a way to maintain in-person classes. Many of the school closures in the area have not been due to student absences but rather staffing shortages. Earlier in the school year, the school board approved a temporary increase in substitute teacher pay to $200 per day. This increase in pay helped boost the pool of available substitutes from just 25 individuals to more than 75. Superintendent of schools, Dr. Travis Hux says that substitute placement has been key in keeping students in the classroom, “Our fill rate has remained at nearly 100% every day, while other districts are at less than a 40% fill rate,” he stated.

Another factor for Excelsior’s ability to remain open has been the implementation of masking policies that allow students to remain in the classroom even if individuals test positive for COVID-19. Excelsior Springs began the school year under a mandatory mask rule for all in-person students and staff, but in November the board of education voted to ease restrictions and moved to a “mask gating” policy. The mask gating policy is enforced on a building by building basis and states that when the COVID positive rate is 4% or more of a building’s total occupancy, (students, staff, and administration) mask mitigation efforts will be reinstated. The spike in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant has been pushing case numbers in the district higher.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2021-11-09-at-1.52.31-PM-900x545.png
A chart showing the threshold for mask implementation for each school in our district.

Just this week, Elkhorn Elementary was the first school in the district to surpass the 4% threshold of Excelsior’s mask gating policy. When questioned about the reinstatement of mask mitigation efforts at Elkhorn, Deputy Superintendent Jaret Tomlinson replied that according to board policies, “4% is the threshold and that decisions (regarding masking) would be made depending on patterns and trends.” Tomlinson also indicated that the 4% threshold was up for interpretation by administrators, stating:

For instance, if a building goes over 4%, but in 2 days a number of students will return making the number drop below 4%, then it is possible that no masking requirement will be triggered because of the short-term nature of the change. However, if a pattern develops that necessitates masks, it might remain in place even if it dips below 4% temporarily. Mask decisions will be made based on all of the data and trends to do what is in the best interest of the students and staff.

Upon examining the mask gating policy provided on the school district’s website, we were unable to find any language that allowed for interpretation of the 4% rule set by the school board.

Some parents have expressed concern over what they perceive as a lack of transparency from the school district in regards to quarantine policies and the number of COVID-19 cases in the schools. Further exacerbating this concern, yesterday (01/26/22) the school district removed a line of statistics from their COVID-19 dashboard titled “School Related Contacts.” This category of statistics showed the number of students who had come into close contact with individuals at the school who had tested positive for COVID-19, which in turn required them to quarantine. Responding to the removal of the School Related Contacts category from the COVID-19 dashboard, Deputy Superintendent Tomlinson indicated that changes in Clay County health protocols prompted the change. He said, “Now that the health department, and not the school district, will be performing any contact tracing, reporting on the school contacts and COVID isn’t information that the school will have.” In an effort to clarify the COVID-19 protocols in the Excelsior Springs School District, an email was sent to parents this afternoon (01/27/22) which contained an updated set of guidelines.

Overall, the teachers, administrators, and staff in the Excelsior Springs schools have worked extremely hard to maintain a sense of normalcy in a time of uncertainty. Superintendent Hux says “It is our goal to remain open and in-person because that is what is best for students.” Hux also acknowledged that, aside from the positive outcomes for students, keeping kids in the classrooms has a trickle-down effect on the entire community, impacting parents and businesses.

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