School start means mask up

Students and staff at Pauls Valley schools will make wearing masks a regular part of their daily routine when a new school year arrives on Aug. 13.

Superintendent Mike Martin says the policy here will include a mandate to wear the masks, while also following a variety of other safety measures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is the local school district has already purchased enough masks to give one to each and every local student regardless of age.

“We're going to mandate that everyone wear masks at school,” Martin tells the PV Democrat. “We're going to mandate masks whether the state board requires it or not. We think it's the safest way.

“We're providing each student with one. They're the neck gator style where students can pull them up over their face when they're not able to socially distance,” he said about the bandana style face coverings.

Martin told all five members of PV's school board last week he expected the state education board to approve mandates, including the use of masks, based on a color coded system showing the positive cases of the virus per capita in each Oklahoma county.

Instead, a majority of the state group voted Thursday to recommend but not require a COVID-19 alert system through Sept. 30, which was meant to increase restrictions for counties that see a spike in virus cases.

Martin has said Garvin County is right now in a lower category for the alert system.

Most of the state board also announced they believe local school districts should decide their own policies.

Although the masks are the call for PV, Martin said he recently got together with most school superintendents in Garvin County as a way to come up with a kind of general plan of specific safety measures to use once school buildings are back open.

Each district can adjust things to fit their needs, but their consensus is to offer parents a choice – either have their kids come to classes in person at the schools or have students do the online/virtual instruction online from home.

“We've spent a tremendous amount of time planning, talking to health experts and education leaders, to develop what we think is the best plan,” Martin said.

“The schools will be safe as best as we can possibly be. We're taking the necessary steps and protocols for the schools to be safe.

“We want them there in-person as much as possible. We believe it's best for them to be at the school. Teachers and administrators need to see them everyday. I 100 percent believe that. I guarantee it's a sanctuary for a lot of the kids. They haven't had that for five months.”

The temperature of each student will taken to start each school day, and there will be assigned seating on school buses. In the name of safety parents are encouraged to take their children to and from school.

Lunch periods will also be staggered allowing for students to socially distance from each other, while things like hand sanitizers are expected to be put just about “everywhere” in each of the local schools.

Parents also have the choice of keeping their children home with remote virtual learning.

“You'll get a local teacher providing an education to the student daily. If that student chooses later on to come back to school we think they'll fit in better.”

For those choosing online school they will have to provide their own computers and Internet service and “commit to it for a year.”

These students will also not be allowed to take part in extracurricular activities or the school's food program.

The PV School Board is expected to formally approve the back-to-school plan at an Aug. 6 meeting.

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