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Shirley Funk takes the temperature of Natalie Davis, 5, at the door before they enter Goins Elementary for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in Cheyenne. All Laramie County School District 1 buildings opened Monday for in-person classes, with social distancing practices and sanitization processes in place. Rhianna Gelhart/For the Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The daily temperature checks that have become part of the new normal for students and staff in Laramie County School District 1 might not continue through the rest of the pandemic.

“We’re kind of wondering whether we really need to (do them),” Boyd Brown, superintendent of LCSD1, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle Thursday. “As we’ve gone through the middle of October we’ve not found one person during the screenings that we sent home that tested positive. The question is whether we want to phase it out.”

To date, the district has reported 25 total positive COVID-19 cases since reopening for in-person learning. Several were reported over the last week amid a spike in cases across Laramie County and the rest of the state. Although the district was one of 23 in Wyoming that opted in to state-supported surveillance testing, which randomly tests a percentage of staff for the virus, Brown said Thursday that it hasn’t started yet.

“The state hasn’t gotten the information to us to where we can even get our staff members to select if they want to do it or not,” he said.

In addition to mandated mask-wearing whenever social distancing isn’t possible, staff are also required to check the body temperature of each student before they start the school day. Under current protocols, any student with a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees is sent to the nurse’s office for additional screening.

Although a fever is one possible symptom of the virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend daily temperature checks in schools as a way to detect or contain the virus.

Kathy Emmons, director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, who has discussed temperature checks with district officials, said the checks “may be one indicator, but it’s certainly not the only indicator.”

The challenge with temperature checks is that, especially as the weather gets colder, it could be hard to get an accurate reading.

“If kids have their big jackets on or they’re running around, they’ll either be hotter or colder than their body temperature really is. So many outside factors are going to impact that,” Emmons said. “Temperature checks can be an indicator, but we also know that there are people who are COVID-19-positive and never do spike a fever.”

Emmons said the biggest thing parents can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is to keep their children home if they are sick and to continue wearing masks in public spaces to prevent transmitting the virus into the schools.

Parents are also required to submit a health evaluation of their students to the district each day. Those students who do not complete one are screened once they arrive at school.

“Unfortunately, some of the parents were just falling into a rote pattern of saying everything’s OK on the questionnaire,” said Emmons, who urged parents to take the health assessments seriously.

Brown said there’s no plan to eliminate the evaluations and that if the district did decide to move forward with eliminating temperature checks, it would do so gradually.

When Brown presented the idea to the LCSD1 Board of Trustees at its most recent meeting, board members had mixed reactions.

“Doing away with it might be a good reset at this time,” Trustee Lynn Storey-Huylar said, recounting a message she received about a child who avoided going to the nurse with a non-COVID-related ailments for fear of getting sent home. “I think if you relax a little bit, maybe it will reset the balance of people who will feel more apt to go and say when they’re not feeling well.”

Trustee Tim Bolin said he’d like to see the temperature checks continue, suggesting that, “Maybe we could find another way once it gets cold to do it once they’re in the building for a while.”

It’s not clear if or when the board will vote on changing temperature check requirements.

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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