The Dodge City USD 443 Board of Education passed its return-to-school operation plan 6-1 following lengthy discussion.


Board member Ryan Ausmus voted against the presented plan.


"I want to point out that this plan is a lot more than just about masks," superintendent Fred Dierksen said at the meeting Monday. "It’s for the safety of 7,000 kids, it’s for the safety of 1,600 employees, it’s for the requirement that we are outlined with the governor’s executive order followed by the state department that put together the navigating change document, which is made up of work from more than a thousand people across the state."


The plan was described as fluid and will be adapted along the way as information comes out and COVID-19 policies change, such as if the executive order mandating masks were to be rescinded or when it expires on Sept. 15.


"Over 700 teachers and more than 300 experts from related fields have all contributed to give us the guidelines for what we’re to put together and when it all comes down to it, the responsibility becomes that of each district to follow that plan as outlined by those experts so that we conduct school as safely as we possibly can," Dierksen said.


Director of safety and security Shawn Lampe began a walkthrough of the current version of the plan, highlighting specific changes, starting with face coverings.


In line with the executive orders, USD 443 staff and students will be required to wear masks inside school facilities.


Exceptions are instances when a lesson necessitates a teacher or student needing to see a moving mouth or the expressions of another, for example. Lampe said they are trying to find a way to allow face shields during such instances.


Once that instance is finished, though, they will be required to resume wearing their mask.


Teachers will be allowed to wear face shields, but they will have to wear a mask beneath the shield.


Temperature screenings with no-touch/non-contact thermometers will be done before students and staff enter their school facility.


Students or staff with a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be required to report to the school nurse or designated area and be subject to a second temperature screening 10-15 minutes after the first.


If students or staff continue to have a temperature of 100.4 or higher or if they answer "yes" to any of the screening questions, they are recommended to be sent home and their physician contacted immediately, who will then determine whether the person in question should be tested for the coronavirus.


Details of how to run the temperature screening process effectively are still being worked out.


Temperatures will not be taken aboard buses for the sake of effectiveness.


The plan includes encouraging social distancing practices, increased sanitization efforts that extend to recommending students and staff sanitize their personal items, such as backpacks, and follow regular hygiene practices.


Students and staff exhibiting two or more of the following symptoms are prohibited from coming to school, and if they do, they will be sent home immediately:


• Lower respiratory illness (cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing).


• New loss of taste or smell.


• Fever (100.4 or higher).


• Chills.


• Muscle or body aches.


• Fatigue.


• Headache.


• Sore throat.


• Diarrhea.


The COVID-19 Response Plan portion has been adjusted for student safety.


Closure and quarantine operations were discussed in the COVID-19 Standard Response Protocol with a series of various increasing levels of severity from a Stage 1 scenario to Stage 5 scenario, with Stage 5 being a total district closure where students and staff move to Remote Live Learning for a minimum of 14 days.


Since July 12, Lampe has dealt with 34 staff cases, 21 contact situations, eight positive test results, three negative test results, 29 resulting in necessary quarantine or isolation, one travel quarantine, and one test result currently pending.


Student-wise, there was one student in a congregate housing situation with family.


Considering those results and what measures can be taken considering concerns, Dierksen said that USD 443 is not trying to hide anything and is trying to be completely transparent with families.


Public information officer Kerri Baker said updates regarding COVID-19 numbers will be updated on the USD 443 website via a graphic as they become available.


Updates for extracurricular activities and events will include temperature checks for all who attend indoor events. Masks will be recommended for anyone attending, except competing students or students otherwise directly participating in the sport or event.


When it came to voting to approve the plan, Ryan Ausmus shared his reason for voting against it.


"If we took this in parts, I’d agree with 98% of it, but we’re taking it as a whole, which is really the only way we could do it," Ausmus said.


He further stated his biggest concern was with elementary school students being constantly distressed with their masks, this facilitating his reasoning for masks to be optional for everyone.


"In my mind, students are either at risk or not," Ausmus said.


The motion still passed 6-0.


A second motion to approve Remote Learning assurances passed 7-0.


The current Return to School Operation Plan is available to be read and or downloaded at https://www.usd443.org/282168_2 and is set to be mailed in both English and Spanish before Aug. 15 and 16. Additionally, copies will be made available in schools.