'Moving Forward!' Masks aren't mandatory this year in Greencastle-Antrim schools

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Masks will be optional, but highly recommended when Greencastle-Antrim students head back to school under the 2021-22 Health and Safety Reopening Plan approved by the school board Thursday, July 22.

This year's district theme is "Moving Forward! Taking Care of our Children and our Community" and Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, said it is clear the community wants in-person learning with masks optional.

Blue, the Greencastle-Antrim School District mascot, wore a mask during a meal distribution for children early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Face coverings will be optional, but highly recommended when students return to G-A schools on Aug. 19.

A survey asking whether parents feel comfortable sending their kids back to school if masks are optional had "huge participation," Hanks said, and more than 95 percent of parents who responded said "yes."

For families who are uncomfortable sending their children to schools where face coverings are not required, GA Virtual remains an option, Hanks noted.

This slide from the July 22 presentation by Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, summarizes the Greencastle-Antrim School District's 2021-22 Health and Safety Reopening Plan.

When schools open Aug. 19, COVID-19 safety protocols will include 3 feet of social distancing and working in small groups with limited mixing as much as possible. Cleaning will remain a priority, along with teaching and modeling hygiene and hand washing.

The district will work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to identify, evaluate and prevent outbreaks, according to a summary of the plan in Hanks' report at the meeting.

The DOH visited the district on July 19 and this school year is using a "harm reduction" framework rather than the previous clinical best practice model, Hanks said.

This slide from the July 22 presentation by Dr. Lura Hanks, Greencastle-Antrim School District superintendent, shows how the Pennsylvania Department of Health is working with schools this year concerning COVID-19.

The working relationship between the DOH and districts is still unfolding and also will include providing nurses with the COVID-19 Prevention Tool Kit for Schools and free COVID-19 testing in schools.

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The plan includes COVID-19 exposure quarantine regulations based on DOH guidelines, but Hanks said DOH has indicated those rules will probably be updated.

As adopted, the plan says students and employees exposed to COVID-19 who are vaccinated and asymptomatic do not have to quarantine. Non-vaccinated students and staff must quarantine regardless of symptoms.

This slide from the July 22 presentation by Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, shows the COVID-19 exposure protocols in Greencastle-Antrim School District's 2021-22 Health and Safety Reopening Plan. They could change based on future recommendations from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Hanks noted.

Contact tracing will remain a key factor, according to Hanks.

"We need to be able to know who was in contact with a positive case," Hanks said. That means always knowing where people were sitting, whether it is younger children in a "contact square" or high schoolers with assigned seats.

On buses, where families will sit together, windows will be down and, like in school, face coverings will be optional, but highly recommended.

This slide from the July 22 presentation by Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, shows the guiding principles in the development of the Greencastle-Antrim School District's 2021-22 Health and Safety Reopening Plan.

Guiding principles in the creation of the 2021-22 plan included:

Implementing prevention and mitigation policies in line with the most up-to-date guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to safely open schools for in-person learning

Ensuring continuity of services, including but not limited to, students' academic needs and the social, emotional and mental health needs of students and staff.

Maintaining the health and safety of students, educators and other staff by policies based on the safety recommendations of the CDC.

The complete plan can be found on the school district website gcasd.org on the menu under COVID-19.