Student and parent cooperation are being hailed as exemplary as Cache County’s two major school districts size up how things have gone so far in the delicate return to classes under the cloud of COVID-19.
“It is still too early to know much, but so far so good,” the Bear River Health Department quoted staff epidemiologist Caleb Harrison as saying on Friday when asked about the start of the school year. “There are a handful of students and school employees in the area who are in our system as ‘school cases,’ but they were infected before the start of the school year and didn’t cause any exposures at the school. Other than that, there’s not much to report.”
The Cache County School District reported Monday after a week and a half of classes that it has seen only two cases of the virus among its 18,000-plus students, while Logan schools have seen under 10 cases in their roughly 6,000-student population.
“We have a handful of our students who have contracted the virus since the start of school,” Logan School Superintendent Frank Schofield said. “As we have worked with the Bear River Health Department to do the contract tracing and look at those, all of those cases have been situations where students have contracted the virus outside of school. Thanks to those students and their parents’ vigilance, we have been able to keep COVID-19 out of our schools.”
Cache County School District spokesman Tim Smith offered a similar early assessment but acknowledged the low rate of cross-contamination within schools will likely go up as the year progresses.
“In a lot of ways things have gone amazingly smooth,” he said. “For the most part kids are wearing masks and teachers are wearing their masks and people are following the protocols. It hasn’t been perfect by any stretch, but neither is it anywhere. I think there has been an amazing acceptance with people thinking ‘We all want to be back in school and we’re doing what we can to stay there.’”
Cache County schools have reduced the length of school days by 45 minutes as a coronavirus safety measure, and facilities in the district have individually instituted other procedures such as one-way hallways and placing QR codes on lunch tables for students to scan with their phones for the purpose of contact tracing in the event they contract the virus.
A letter to the editor in The Herald Journal criticizing the safety measures along with other school policies generated a flood of comments online over the weekend. Among the letter writer's targets was the implementation of one-way hallways at Ridgeline High School.
“If the goal is to minimize the spread of the virus, then isn’t the rational thing to minimize the number of people in the hallways and the length of time they are in the hallways?” asked Irvin Nelson, the author of the letter. “Suppose the policy being enforced at Ridgeline makes the students travel an average of five times as far to get to their next class. That would mean they are in the hallways an average of five times as long, with the hallways five times as crowded, making it 5x5=25 times as likely they will transmit the virus.”
Nelson went on the say: “Instead of teaching correct principles and letting the students govern themselves, the school administration shoves a dictatorial policy down their throats, and enforces it with an iron fist.”
Smith said he hadn’t seen the letter and couldn’t comment on the overall tone. However, on the procedural end of things, he noted directional hallways is an option given to schools by the district, but not all are instituting the rule.
“We made signage for all 25 of our schools. Some of it was directional, some of it was directive — meaning wear your mask, wash your hands or those kinds of things — and we really let the schools decide how they were going to use those directional arrows because all of our buildings are set up a bit differently,” he said.
One of the largest COVID-19 adjustments in Logan schools has been a “soft opening” with students attending only half days. The school board will decide on Sept. 8 whether or not to resume normal hours.
“We are crossing our fingers that if things continue as they have started that we will be able to bring students back to school full-time,” Schofield said. “It will all depend on the spread of COVID-19 in our schools.”
In a video message to parents posted on the district’s Facebook page, the Logan superintendent also noted resumption of other normal school activities.
“We are moving forward with other activities in the school. High school athletics are moving forward, our student government and our administration are working on plans for Homecoming, so the school year is continuing to move forward,” he said.