WYOMING — The 2021/22 school year is just around the corner, and as students return to classrooms across the state during a time of increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections, state leaders have described priorities and expectations for students, staff and families.

“Our goal for this school year is to keep our schools open and our students learning safely in-person, in the classroom,” Governor Mark Gordon said. “Today we want to announce our joint plan put in place to achieve this. We recognize it will take a collaborative effort from Wyoming school personnel, students and families to be successful.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jillian Balow, shared a similar sentiment stating that Wyoming has proven itself as an “exceptional” example of how in-person instruction and extra-curricular activities can occur safely.

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health, said the shared goal continues to be for schools to remain open and operating safely. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been increasing in Wyoming over the last few weeks due to the highly contagious Delta variant.

“There is no question most students benefit from in-person learning. We made keeping schools open a priority last year and are doing so again,” Harrist said. “The good news is we now have free, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, which are readily available across Wyoming and are authorized for anyone 12 and older.”

“While there will be no state vaccine mandate in Wyoming, we know promoting vaccination among eligible students, school staff, family members and throughout our communities can help schools stay open and vibrant as well as help keep students and their teachers in the classroom,” Harrist said.

“An additional benefit to COVID-19 vaccination is that individuals who are fully vaccinated and identified as close contacts do not need to quarantine, which can be helpful in the school setting,” said Harrist.

Gov. Gordon reiterated that personal responsibility is essential. Even though there will be no statewide mask mandate, vaccination and mask usage can help students and staff minimize the ripple effects that illness and quarantining can have on Wyoming’s communities and economy. “Together we can keep people working, kids learning, businesses thriving and all the members of our families healthy,” the Governor said.

An added advantage to wearing masks in schools is that when someone is found to have COVID-19 and both that person and anyone who is identified as a close contact were both wearing masks at the time of exposure, quarantine is not necessary.

“These are difficult times and hard on everyone. It is important that parents know what to expect as we begin the school year,” Governor Gordon added. “Everyone cares deeply and wants to ensure that the year is a success. I ask that we show respect and kindness to one another as we navigate some really tough decisions. We should always remember to treat others as we would like to be treated.”

Teton County School District #1 will meet tomorrow to discuss mask mandates for the upcoming school year.

Buckrail @ Caroline

Caroline Chapman is a Community News Reporter. She's a lover of alliteration, easy-to-follow recipes and board games when everyone knows the rules. Her favorite aspect about living in the Tetons is the collective admiration that Wyomingites share for the land and the life that it sustains.