Park City School District and the Health Department had better figure out what to do with Park City High School amid Covid surge
Cases of Covid-19 are spiking at Park City High School. Currently, 46 kids have tested positive. Normally, more than 30 students with Covid would trigger what’s called “Test to Stay” at the school. This would mean that all students would need to be tested to continue in-person classes. However, due to the language in the Utah Legislation that created the Test to Stay program, if a student hasn’t been in school for the last 14 days, they aren’t counted. Due to the Christmas break, 29 of the 46 cases aren’t counted versus the Test to Stay threshold at PCHS.
So what we have is an outbreak, that can’t be officially treated as an outbreak, because of legislative rules. However, the Park City School Board, School District, and Health Department need to be treating this as a major issue. Covid cases at the high school are going to blow up; Test To Stay will be triggered. The numbers could be so staggering that the Summit County Health Department will have to put in mandates. There may be so many kids out of school that the district has to make alternate plans for remote education.
Why do I say this? The transmission capability of Omicron and personal experience. I got Covid before Christmas. I am triple vaxxed and likely got Omicron while waiting an hour for takeout, while wearing a mask, at Bombay house in SLC. I tested positive for Covid a couple of days later. My kids took a PCR test and tested negative. A couple of days after that, they tested positive. My story isn’t uncommon.
Whether a high school student tested positive on the morning before classes started, and thus they are not counted in the numbers, is irrelevant. Many high school kids are social and likely have spread this to their friends. Their friends will test negative for a bit and then they will test positive. Between the two tests, they will spread it to others.
I would be remiss if I didn’t state that Omicron seems rather benign for many people. It was for my family. However, public policy is not that nuanced. A positive test is a positive test and that will dictate the actions taken. I would guess we will have 150 positives at PCHS within a week. I wouldn’t be shocked if the number stretched to 300 at some point soon.
The question is what the School Board, School District, and Summit County Health Department are doing about this?
Let’s start with the School Board. I was a little shocked that there wasn’t an emergency meeting being held by the Park City School Board. I would think the board would want to discuss issues they find important, given the fact that the high school will likely move to a Test to Stay paradigm. Also, after the debacle at Parley’s Park earlier this year, I would think the board would want to ask some pointed questions of Superintendent Gildea and the district:
- Have you communicated with the Health Department to ensure there are enough tests (and testing teams) for 1,500 high school students to be tested?
- If there are not enough tests, and the school goes full remote, has the district communicated with teachers and students on how remote learning will work? Have they planned for reaching out to ELL and disadvantaged students to ensure all students are treated equitably.
- How will Test to Stay practically work at the High School? Will it delay start times? How do we keep students safe while waiting for testing?
- For students that choose remote learning, or have to be remote, what plans do we have in place to help hundreds of students continue their learning process?
- Given the numbers at the high school, can we change any procedures to make students safer?
- Given student numbers, what can we do to keep teachers safe?
The board may say, we are on top of it, and emailing back and forth to make sure we are in a good place. The problem with that is that it violates Open Meeting laws. The public has a right to know what policy discussions are taking place in an open forum. So, there needs to be an official meeting.
From the School District and Health Department’s point of view, I think their Test to Start program that is available from 7:15 until 9:15 AM at the High School and Ecker Hill is a great start. However, I can’t find any information on Test to Stay protocols, which are likely going to be needed soon. The only mention is that that “At that time [after thresholds are met], Test to Stay protocols will be distributed to families. Compare this to the Alpine School District where they already clearly define what will happen and have a parental consent system ready.
Maybe that’s because Alpine School District has 89 schools and they take it more seriously. However, you’d think with only 7 schools in the Park City School District, we could have a plan ready and posted.
There is a lack of trust with the Park City School District. I ask myself if at 2 PM this afternoon the district gets word that over 30 students at PCHS, that can be “counted,” have Covid, will they successfully execute Test to Stay tomorrow?
Granted, I am a skeptic, but I don’t think so. I think it will be a mess. I hope they prove me wrong. To do that they will need:
- Top notch communications to the public that explains what is happening and how this works
- Excellent communciations for teachers/staff to explain how this impacts them.
- A process for testing all students quickly and efficiently.
- A mechanism to get parental consent for testing and a way to relay that to the people doing testing.
- A system for recording all data.
They will need all of this on day one. Whether that is today or next week.
Perhaps I am wrong and we won’t cross that threshold requiring Test to Stay at PCHS. However, we already blew past that, except for technicalities. Perhaps the school district and Health Department have table-topped this, so they have a plan in place that will survive the first encounter with students. That would be great and I would love to be wrong. Perhaps, the school district learned from the incident at Parley’s Park and has spent the month of December planning for this.
However, I fear that the district is so intent on making sure schools stay open that they haven’t accounted for, what seems now, the inevitability.
We should know soon enough.
This is a train headed down the track right toward us. I hope the district has got this. If they do, then it will go a ways toward me believing they have things under control. I would conclude that they have learned from the Parley’s Park incident and it engenders more trust.
If not, it’s likely many key school district players won’t politically survive the repercussions.
More information about Test to Stay is available here.