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New regulations from the state have opened up opportunities for more spectators to watch high school events.

“Essentially we can get up to 40% of the capacity of our gym,” said Preston School District Superintendent Marc Gee. However, details have not yet been determined, he said. Once they are, they will be announced.

The overall trend over the last several weeks has been down in both Preston School District and the county. Since Nov. 21, 2020, when the number of active cases of COVID-19 was 142 in the county, the number of new active cases has declined overall. As of Jan. 22, 2021, the number of active cases is 14, dropping the county to a level that borders the moderate and low risk categories.

Additionally, as of Jan. 21, the first doses of vaccinations were made available to Preston School District employees through the Franklin County Medical Center. The vaccination is available to all who request it.

As promised, the Preston School District Board of Trustees, have made changes to its mask policy due to the local downturn in the pandemic, with caveats to protect the rights of individuals in the district.

First, the requirement for all staff and students to wear face masks has been dropped except for two exceptions. However, masks are still recommended and encouraged.

The first exception is for teachers who choose to require masks within their individual classrooms until such time as teachers are able to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is to reflect the data that shows that while serious complications in students may be rare, serious complications in adults can be more prevalent and may have effects on other family members,” states the district in a letter home to parents. “We would request that parents and students respect the concerns that teachers share if they are in classes where masks are asked to be worn. Teachers do not make these decisions lightly and are watching out for their health or that of others in their family.”

Furthermore, a policy has been adopted to promote respect within the district and support teachers who feel they need to ask students to wear masks in their classrooms.

Students who choose not to wear the mask in the classroom of such teachers will face the following consequences:

• 1st Infraction: parents notified, detention assigned

• 2nd Infraction: parents notified, student contract established, in-school suspension

• 3rd Infraction: removal from classroom, out-of-school suspension

“This has been a difficult time for all. Decisions made as a district have affected students, teachers, and parents in different ways. In these situations, teachers have found themselves caught in the middle of expectations from the district and resistance, sometimes flagrant and abusive, from both parents and students as they try to teach students and implement district decisions,” the letter said.

“We would ask as strongly as we can that you as parents help your students support teachers who make the decision to have masks in their classrooms. Please do not make a difficult situation even more difficult by punishing the teachers who are trying to navigate this situation. Disrespectful comments, messages written on masks, or other forms of disrespect directed at teachers or students will not be tolerated.”

The second exception applies to when students are exposed to COVID-19 while at school.

When students are exposed at school, if both the student found to have contracted COVID and those around that student are wearing masks, students will not have to be sent home. Students and staff with positive COVID tests should continue to quarantine according to the directions of their medical professionals.

If a student is exposed to another person who was positive with COVID at school and this student was not wearing a mask, they may stay at school if they are willing to wear a mask until the exposure period has passed (this period has been, on average, 3-4 school days). Otherwise, students will be asked to stay home for that period.

District officials will continue to monitor and evaluate the district’s response to local COVID-19 levels. If conditions worsen, it may return to some of the procedures previously used, states the letter.

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