Rumors circulating that Parsons USD 503 will be closing its schools through the end of the year have no basis in fact.

Superintendent Lori Ray said Friday that the number of students and staff in quarantine have increased the last two weeks, due to COVID-19 exposures outside of school and in households, as well as in school.

However, the COVID positivity rate for students and staff remains very low.

“As of right now, districtwide there are nine students and there are six staff. Percentage-wise that is 0.7 percent of students and 2 percent for staff,” Ray said. 

Those numbers can change in a matter of hours, to less or more. If they were to remain consistent, there would be three teachers back by Monday and two students will have returned. 

Districtwide, as of Friday, there were 156 students in quarantine. 

“I’m not really sure where it is coming from. I think there has been some confusion,” Ray said of the rumors.

Superintendents of schools in Labette County met with Dr. Sonya Culver, the medical director for the county health department, on Friday afternoon, simply to discuss the matter of gaiting criteria based on absenteeism, versus rates of exposure, versus quarantine. Absentee rates alone cannot be used, as students are absent for a variety of reasons. As well, Ray said, students who are attending classes remotely due to being quarantined are not absent, as long as they are logging into their classes, so superintendents likely need to look at gaiting criteria differently than initially proposed in August.

“Our plan right now is to continue to move forward with the in-person instruction, as well as the remote instruction as we are. Now if we receive other advice or clarification, the board is going to have to get back together and make a decision,” Ray said. “As of right now, we have zero transmission in the schools, but our quarantine numbers are starting to creep up there.”

While 156 students may seem like a lot, Ray said people need not look far to see surrounding districts with that many students quarantined in a day.

“It’s a virus. We’ve always known it would be a matter of when it got here, not if it got here. I think because the numbers were so low the first seven or eight weeks, when we started to see an increase that caused a panic, that since the numbers were up we were automatically going to close school,” Ray said.

The only reason for the district to move in that direction would be if positivity rates began to escalate, and then it would not close school but could potentially go to all remote learning for a time.

“I wish people would feel free to call here and check. I’m not sure who is spreading the panic, but the last thing any of us need is panic and us adults need to do better if the adults are the ones stirring up the panic and concern,” Ray said. “Our kids don’t need the additional stress of fear, ‘My school is going to close.’”

By revisiting the gaiting criteria, superintendents are just trying to remain proactive in caring for students and staff for their health and safety.

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