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As COVID-19 case numbers remain low and guidance for schools is loosened, some Cole County schools have loosened COVID-19 restrictions for summer school. Others, who had less strict protocols, are keeping the same restrictions.

School and district administrators said they will use local guidance and what they learned from summer school and the 2020-21 school year to determine a plan for the 2021-22 school year.

Since the number of cases and level of spread in Cole County is low, summer school is a good time to loosen restrictions and learn what works and what doesn't to create a plan for next school year, said Chezney Schulte, communicable disease coordinator for the Cole County Health Department.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Health and Senior Services recently updated their COVID-19 recommendations for schools, loosening guidance on screening, disinfecting, social distancing and visitor access.

DESE follows recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which updated its guidance for schools in March.

While it's important to consider guidance from DESE, DHSS and the CDC, the CDC's guidance tends to be strict, Schulte said, so it's important to also consider the number of cases and level of spread in the community when making decisions for COVID-19 precautions in schools.

Some of the main recommendations, such as hand-washing and staying home while sick, will always be recommended, Schulte said.

Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell said she trusts school districts to do what's best for them.

"They know their student bodies; they know what's going on within their schools," she said. "The cases in Cole County would certainly not indicate that they need to be super strict with their restrictions."

Jefferson City School District

JC Schools will still follow its main current protocols for summer school, including social distancing, increased sanitation, personal protective equipment, staff and student screening measures, limited visitor access to buildings and procedures for COVID-19 infections.

However, parts of the overall plan have been loosened.

Schools will no longer closely monitor thermal cameras for temperatures; students will now leave their primary classrooms for art, music and library classes; masks will no longer be required during outdoor recess; some schools will allow students to eat meals in the cafeteria again; some non-essential furniture can be moved back into the classroom; and the district will no longer directly offer virtual education for the summer.

The virtual education application window for the 2021-22 school year will open in August.

The rest of the current protocols will remain the same for summer school, but the plan "is subject to change if local conditions warrant a tightening or loosening of any of the proposed guidelines," according to the district's document outlining the plan.

JC Schools will continue to assess local conditions and guidance from state and federal agencies over the next few months to determine whether any further changes will be made to the COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-22 school year, Communications Director Ryan Burns said.

"We will strive to provide an update to families by mid-summer," she said.

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Blair Oaks

The Blair Oaks Board of Education recently voted to lift all COVID-19 restrictions for summer school, which starts Wednesday.

The district had procedures in place to increase social distancing and required masks when social distancing was not possible. The district stuck with the protocols it had in place for the whole 2020-21 school year.

Blair Oaks has not had a COVID-19 case since April 16, according to the district's website.

Superintendent Jim Jones estimates about 60 percent of Blair Oaks staff is vaccinated.

Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell said she is "not opposed" to the board's decision to lift all restrictions for summer school since summer class sizes are smaller, virus case levels tend to be lower in the summer, and it's a good time to test the waters and determine a plan for the fall.

"We know that COVID isn't dimming out," Campbell said. "It's not going away. At some point, we are going to have to go back to normal and lift those restrictions and live our lives. Summer school is probably a good time to do it."

The district will continually monitor COVID-19 cases and re-evaluate before the start of the 2021-22 school year, Jones said.

Cole R-1 (Russellville)

The Cole R-1 School District in Russellville stuck with the same protocols throughout the entire 2020-21 school year and is keeping those same protocols for summer school, which started May 24.

Cole R-1 keeps students in small groups as much as possible to allow for more social distancing. The district has encouraged masks, but they were never required.

"There weren't a lot of changes that needed to be made simply because of the approach that we took during the school year," Superintendent Perry Gorrell said.

After summer school, district administrators will meet to discuss DESE's guidance and what worked and what didn't during the 2020-21 school year and over the summer, and then determine a plan for the 2021-22 school year, Gorrell said.

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Cole R-5 (Eugene)

Cole R-5 School District administration relaxed the COVID-19 restrictions in March since the district hadn't had any COVID-19 cases in a while, Superintendent Dawna Burrow said.

The district began holding larger events, stopped keeping students in classroom cohorts at recess and allowed students to eat in the cafeteria instead of the classroom. The protocols for situations when a student has symptoms remained the same.

The district is keeping the same protocols in place for summer school, which started May 17.

Burrow is retiring June 30, so Charley Burch — who starts July 1 — will develop the plan for the 2021-22 school year with the rest of the administrative team.

Helias Catholic High School

Helias Catholic High School's summer school starts Tuesday. The school will continue to monitor Cole County's COVID-19 cases and follow recommendations from DESE and DHSS.

Masks are required when social distancing cannot be maintained, except during physical activity. Protocols are subject to change, Helias Accommodations Coordinator Elizabeth Twyman said.

John Knight, who will start his new position as Helias president in July, and Spencer Allen, who will start his position as Helias principal at the same time, will be in charge of the decision for the 2021-22 school year.

Allen said they will consider guidance from the CDC and Cole County Health Department to determine a plan.

"We'll be looking for as normal of a school year as possible while being responsible and cooperating with any official guidelines," he said.

Calvary Lutheran High School

Calvary Lutheran High School does not have summer school. Executive Director John Christman said school leaders will look at what worked and what didn't during the 2020-21 school year to determine a plan for the 2021-22 school year. He said he expects to release a plan to families in late July or early August.

For the 2020-21 school year, the school used air purifiers in classrooms and Plexiglas between students in the classroom and cafeteria. Masks were required when social distancing could not be maintained until the CDC released new mask guidelines that state those who are fully vaccinated do not have to wear masks.

It's likely restrictions will be loosened if cases remain low, Christman said.

"We hope that the case counts continue to move in the direction that they have and that people who want the vaccine can take advantage of the vaccine, and so we hope in the fall that we're no more restrictive than we are right now," he said.

Christman said they will consider levels of community spread and any recommendations from experts to determine the plan for the fall.

"Like this year, we're going to have to be adaptable and just understand what the environment is at that time and move forward with the best information that we have," Christman said. "We'll just stay abreast of where our community is in terms of its health conditions and make decisions accordingly."

Lighthouse Preparatory Academy

Lighthouse Preparatory encouraged masks throughout the 2020-21 school year but never required them. The school increased its cleaning efforts and the availability of soap and hand sanitizer, and encourages students to wash and sanitize their hands often. They will continue these efforts over the summer and for the 2021-22 school year, Administrator Karen Crawford said.

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