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As students flocked back to school this week, Coudersport Area School District board is leaving it up to parents whether their children wear masks.

“Essentially, we will be operating with masks optional to start the school year,” Superintendent Drew Kyle told this newspaper after the school board adopted its health and safety plan for the 2021-2022 school year. “The plan was designed with three goals in mind: to continue to keep our students and staff healthy, safe and happy; to put our students in the least restrictive environment possible; and to allow our board the flexibility to make local decisions in the best interest of our community based on our current data and circumstances.”

The plan, posted on the district’s website at www.coudyschools.net/Reopening-Plan, is mandated by the State Department of Education for school districts to receive Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding. This year, plans outline how districts will deal with COVID-19, including policies on masking, social distancing, handwashing, cleaning, quarantining, testing and contact tracing.

As for masking, Coudersport’s plan states, “The district maintains that the correct way to wear masks is by making masks optional for all students and staff and providing students and staff with the least restrictive environment. Those who want to wear masks will be allowed to, and the district will ensure that mask shaming of any kind is not tolerated.”

The district takes the same stance on providing vaccines to the school community. The plan says, “The district believes that vaccinations are a personal choice for students and their families. The district is working with our local healthcare provider to make sure students and families are aware of available vaccine clinics.”

According to the plan, students and staff should stay home if they have temperatures of 100.4 degrees or higher, or display symptoms based on the COVID screening tool provided by the district. Students will have temperature checked if visiting the nurse’s station or are believed to be ill. Staff are required to conduct self-monitoring checks, including taking temperatures, before reporting to work each day.

The plan does not specific whether the district will perform contact tracing if students or staff contract COVID.

Also outlined in the plan:

• Students’ desks will be arranged at least three feet apart as space allows, but group work and related opportunities won’t be restricted.

• Regular handwashing will be encouraged with signs on hygiene practices posted in the schools. Students will also be encouraged to cover coughs and sneezes appropriately. Hand sanitizer will be available to students.

• In addition to the regular daily cleaning schedule, custodial staff will provide additional cleaning to high-touch areas including door handles, handrails, countertops, restrooms, etc. Cafeteria staff will follow the same protocol for high-touch areas in the cafeteria and kitchen. Cafeteria staff will also enter meal account numbers to eliminate each student touching the keypads.

School health and safety plans or certain elements may change at the discretion of the district, the Department of Health or Department of Education.

Coudersport’s plan states, “The district will continue to work with local health officials and the PA DOH and use those individuals as a resource to make sure the administration and board makes appropriate decisions for our school, our students, and our community that place our students and staff in the least restrictive environment.”

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