PCSD1 Superintendent Jay Curtis releases latest COVID-19 guidelines.

Emma Johnson

More stories from Emma Johnson

May 26, 2022

PC: Amy Johnson

Vault PCR test kits for staff and students are lined on a desk at the Park County District #1 Administration Building.

With the 2021-2022 school year commencing, many were questioning whether PHS staff and students would be required to mask up or not.

The mask requirement was abolished after the Park County School District #1 Board of Trustees proposed the idea for a mask variance on April 27, 2021. With no current health order in place, masking up became optional. However, with the new Delta variant and constantly shifting Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, many students weren’t sure if this school year would differ from last year at all.

After the first few days of school this year, it was very apparent that we were either going to have to have universal masking or look at other protocols.”

— Mr. Curtis

“I did think that a good portion of the school would be quarantined without the mask mandate,” sophomore Kiyoko Hayano said. “I thought it would be really similar to last year, maybe if it really got bad we would have to wear masks again and walk one way in the halls.” Regardless of the common concerns, school returned to the old normal. As a result, positive COVID-19 cases immediately struck PHS with the vast majority of the student population opting out of wearing a mask. The spike of cases started to become evident in the PHS nursing office. 

“Initially at the beginning of the year, there weren’t as many cases because people were still kind of coming in from their own individual homes and hadn’t really clustered in the school area,” PHS school nurse Mrs. Veronica Karhu said. “It started to creep up probably around four weeks ago, shortly after school started.”

With the rapid uptick in positive tests, PCSD#1 quickly assessed the situation and started drafting a contact tracing plan. Soon, many students were being sent into quarantine. Due to the substantial rise in quarantined students, the district made the decision to add an option to the quarantine protocol: students in close contact with those who received positive tests could either quarantine or wear a mask in school for about a week.

PCSD#1 Superintendent Mr. Jay Curtis made it clear that he wanted to prevent students from missing out on critical face to face instruction. 

“After the first few days of school this year, it was very apparent that we were either going to have to have universal masking or look at other protocols,” Curtis said. “We chose to change the protocols we were using to offer individual choice, and to minimize the number of students missing in person instruction.”

As the pandemic continues into cold and flu season, it can be a struggle to tell the difference between COVID and the common cold. Ultimately, it is up to the students and staff to make the final call to stay home.

“Right now we are kind of leaving it up to the honor system and having students stay home when they are sick,” Mrs. Karhu said. “The current protocol is not really to manage COVID cases, it’s to maintain kids in school. It’s not really any kind of mitigation strategy to come to school without masks; it’s just allowing these kids to get a sense of normalcy.”

Covid-19 Guidelines issued in Sep. 2 Email by Jay Curtis:

If a student or staff member is wearing a mask appropriately (fully covering mouth and nose), and are identified as a close contact with a positive case within the school setting, you will not be quarantined, but will be asked to continue mask use and monitor symptoms for 10 to 14 days.

Second, if a staff member or student is identified as a close contact with a positive case while unmasked, they will have two options: 

1) Quarantine at home as per current guidelines. 

2) Wear a mask fully covering mouth and nose at all times except when eating or drinking while at school for the same duration as quarantine guidelines. 

These options will allow us to keep most kids in school, while giving parents, students, and staff choices to make regarding either avoiding quarantine, or managing quarantine. This protocol also does not apply to exposure at home. 

In ALL instances, if you are symptomatic, or test positive you MUST isolate at home for the duration as outlined by public health AND are symptom free.