SWEETWATER COUNTY — In order for the school year to start with in-person classes, school districts across the state were required to come up with Smart Start plans that put COVID-19 Coronavirus restrictions and health orders into place.
With nearly five weeks of school completed, Sweetwater County districts are seeing differences in response to mandates. While Sweetwater County School District No. 1 (SCSD No. 1) reports students and staff massively complying with mask enforcement, Sweetwater County School District No. 2 (SCSD No. 2), and specifically Green River High School (GRHS), is facing some challenges.
GRHS Principal Darren Heslep recently gave an announcement to staff and students, reminding them of the mask requirements and the consequences of refusing to adhere to those requirements.
As per state health orders passed down from the Wyoming Department of Health and the Wyoming Department of Education, schools must require social distancing of six-feet between all persons. If six-feet distance cannot be maintained, all persons must wear face coverings.
However, Heslep said that as the weeks have progressed, there has been more resistance to these health requirements.
“As school has progressed and the newness of being here has started to wear off, we have noticed a lack of some students consistently wearing masks and being mindful of social distancing,” Heslep said.
He said administration is asking everyone in the building to remain diligent in adhering to the health guidelines, as they allow students to “remain on campus to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities.”
Some classrooms do not have the space, or have too many students to properly social distance, which is determined by the teachers, Heslep said. In these cases, masks must be worn. He also said that during passing periods, masks must be worn in the hallways.
While at lunch, only three people are allowed to sit at a single table to maintain social distancing.
Adhering to these expectations is our best chance to maintain face-to-face education opportunities at GRHS. If we cannot adhere to these expectations, the likelihood of exposure is greatly increased.~ GRHS Principal Darren Heslep
Heslep said if exposure to COVID-19 becomes present within the schools, they will likely have to move back to remote learning.
“We do not want to risk finishing school in June, moving back graduation, having to eliminate winter sports and activities, or not be able to complete or participate in fall activities,” he said.
SCSD No. 2 Parent Concerns
While the current reality of school is that students and staff will have to wear face coverings, parents have expressed concerns with the fairness in enforcement and harshness of consequences.
Some parents and community members have said that while students are being enforced to wear masks, teachers and staff are not upholding the same standard themselves.
When SweetwaterNOW posted a story about recently completed renovations at Lincoln Middle School, several of our readers pointed out that the school board members, superintendent, and Lincoln Middle School principals were not wearing masks in the ribbon cutting photos.
Other people commenting noted that you could see masks in their hands, pointing out that they took them off for the photo.
SweetwaterNOW, however, can confirm that the Lincoln Middle School principals and Superintendent Craig Barringer were indeed wearing masks throughout the walkthrough of the renovations.
In addition to complaints that the district may not be upholding the requirements, parents have also complained that the consequences for resistance to face coverings are too harsh and strict.
Consequences of Not Adhering to Safety Guidelines
SCSD No. 2 has set some rules into place for dealing with students who consistently refuse to adhere to safety guidelines, such as wearing face coverings and upholding social distancing.
Heslep acknowledged that it can be easy to forget to put masks on or keep six-feet from other people.
When you forget, we will remind you as we have throughout the year. However, there have been a few students who are becoming reluctant, resistant, and defiant to adhering to the expectations put in place which we must uphold.~ GRHS Principal Darren Heslep
For the students he is referring to, he said they will be provided consequences through a series of warnings, suspensions, and eventual discussion of remote learning.
“These students will be provided consequences for refusing to adhere to the safety guidelines allowing us to come to school, and putting other students and staff at risk,” Heslep said.
For a first offense, there will be a warning from administration and a parent conference. Upon second offense, there will be in-school suspension issued and another parent conference. On third offense, conferencing with the parents will be done to determine if distance learning is the best option for the student.
“Our goal is to ensure those students who want to remain in the building are able to safely do so,” Heslep said. “It is not to punish a student who has forgotten to wear their mask.”
Compliance at SCSD No. 1
Nicole Bolton, SCSD No. 1 Human Resources Director, said they have not had any issues with students refusing to wear masks.
“Due to the size of our schools and capacity, SCSD No. 1 is requiring masks to be worn at all times, as we cannot guarantee six-feet distancing,” Bolton said.
If students cannot wear masks due to medical reasons, Bolton said they can wear a shield, but face coverings are required by all staff and students at all times. If a family does not agree to this, they have the option to do classroom-based virtual education.
“In all fairness, the kids have been amazing,” Bolton said. “They are following the rules and wearing their masks. The things we were worried about did not end up becoming an issue. The kids just want to be in school and we want them there, so we are doing what we have to do to make that happen.”
Masks Required at SCSD No. 1 Sporting Events
Bolton said the compliance has extended to their sporting events, in which 98 percent of the crowd are wearing masks, which is required for all attendees. Though state health orders state that if six-feet social distancing can be maintained at sporting events, masks do not have to be worn, SCSD No. 1 is requiring masks anyway.
“We have taken the stance that everyone wears a mask at all times so that we can allow the maximum amount of spectators in as possible, and policing six-feet distancing and ensuring people are only with their families is impossible,” Bolton said.
SCSD No. 1 Superintendent Kelly McGovern said the district is frequently communicating with local county health officer, Dr. Jean Stachon, and their office in order to implement the state health orders as much as possible.
“This keeps the lines of communication open in case any questions arise or clarifications are needed,” McGovern said. “We are proud of our district and community on their hard work in supporting our youth and their education.”
Bolton said the district is responsible for the health and safety about approximately 6,500 staff and students combined, so they take these health restrictions seriously.
This isn’t about opinions, beliefs, or political stances, this is the school district following health orders and taking every precaution possible in order to keep schools open and staff and students safe. We would rather be strict and consistent than allow exceptions that put students or staff at risk.~ Nicole Bolton, SCSD No. 1 Human Resources Director