By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Yukon Public Schools’ staff and students will be required to wear face coverings when the school year begins next month.
The first day of the Yukon school district’s 2020-21 school year is Thursday, Aug. 20 for students returning to school buildings. Virtual learning starts Aug. 26.
YPS’ back-to-school process follows the Oklahoma State Health Department’s color-coded COVID-19 alert system, which features four stages denoted by green, yellow, orange, and red.
Canadian County is now in the yellow (low) alert stage.
“We are going to have some requirements for face coverings for our staff and students,” YPS Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth announced. “It’s everybody in every building.”
This includes all Yukon school district staff – from administrators and teachers to custodians and maintenance personnel.
“We’re going to require students and staff – everybody that’s in a building – to wear some sort of face covering, whether it be the traditional face mask. It doesn’t have to be cloth; it can be a paper one.”
Dr. Simeroth explained the face covering requirement during an online video message to YPS patrons.
YPS will purchase for each student a “neck gaiter”, a popular type of lightweight cooling face covering.
School officials believe the neck gaiter will be easier for students – especially the young ones – to manage.
“You put it on, you can pull it up where it covers your nose and mouth, and then you pull it down,” Simeroth told YPS patrons.
The school district also is providing face coverings for employees.
During the yellow alert stage, all YPS students and staff will be required to wear these coverings in hallways, media centers and restrooms, and while in line, entering or exiting a school site.
“Anytime you’re in a public area or in a classroom where you are unable to properly social distance, then you are going to be required to wear that face covering,” Simeroth said.
PULL DOWN IN CLASSROOMS
Once Yukon students are seated in classrooms, the plan is for them to space far enough apart that they’ll be able to pull down their face coverings.
Desks and other furniture are being moved around so they’ll be at least six feet apart – as much as possible.
Students and teachers won’t be required to wear them at that point, although they will be welcome to.
When students and teachers come in close proximity, they will be asked to pull up the masks over their noses and mouths.
“That’s why we chose the neck-gaiter option for our students because it’s very easy to move up and down,” Simeroth shared. “We are providing each student with one.”
While face coverings can be washed daily, the superintendent recommended families purchase more if they can afford them.
Simeroth realizes the face covering requirement may not be welcome news for many YPS patrons.
“My job is to make decisions that aren’t always popular but are in the best interest of our staff and students,” he said.
If Canadian County escalates to the orange (moderate) alert stage on the state health department’s COVID scale, anyone who enters a Yukon school building will be required to wear a face covering from the time they enter to the time they leave.
“If we move to the red (high alert), then all bets are off,” Simeroth warned. “That’s pretty serious. If we’re in the red category in Canadian County, we’re probably not going to be having school and we’ll enact our continuous (online) learning plan.”