Two schools have reported cases of COVID-19 among students and teachers within the first week of school starting, causing them to test the reopening response plans they have in place.

Meadow View Grade School Principal Chris Kastler said Thursday two students there contracted COVID-19.

“We had a message from the health department when we came in Tuesday morning that two of our students had tested positive. They were twins from the same household,” Kastler said. 

One of the two students’ parents is an essential worker who had been exposed to the coronavirus through work, and so the parent picked up the children at school and had them tested.

“So we went and gathered things up and looked at all their information we had — where they sat at lunch, where they sat in music and where they sat in the classroom — and determined what kids were close enough to them for the amount of time (within 6 feet for 10 minutes). We identified five other students that sat close enough to them that we thought they had that trace connection,” Kastler said. “We talked to the health department and one of the nurses came out and gave us guidance on what to do.”

The school notified the parents of the other five students, and they picked them up. Wednesday was the school’s first remote learning practice day, so all the teachers were practicing remote learning with the students in their classroom, preparing just in case something like this happened. Kastler said those students now isolated and quarantined got to practice remote learning, remotely.

“We sent them home with computers and their homework and that kind of stuff. By that afternoon they were online with their classes, most of them, joining in,” Kastler said.

The other five students in quarantine are not required to undergo a COVID-19 test unless they begin to exhibit symptoms and their parents choose to. All of the students have to be out for 14 days.

Kastler called the students on Thursday to check on them. All were still feeling well and showed no symptoms of COVID-19.

Kastler said the school’s response plan worked because instead of having to shut down the whole class of 22 students, just seven out of the class had to be removed.

“The rest of them are still in class and the teacher just now has more on remote students,” he said.

Even recess time and cafeteria time is designed to help with limiting more widespread contact between classes and grades, and enable more accurate tracing for everyone’s safety. All of the students are required to wear masks, which are still said to be one of the best defenses against spread of the virus.

“Everyone knows this is going to happen. It’s hopefully, just the plans you have in place, let you keep going without having to shut down a whole class, a whole grade or a whole school,” Kastler said. “That’s our goal.”

Chetopa-St. Paul USD 505 Superintendent Craig Bagshaw verified St. Paul Elementary School responded to its first cases of COVID-19 this week, too.

“It was a student originally, and the student did actually infect the teacher as well,” Bagshaw said Thursday afternoon. “It wasn’t anything that originated in our school. It actually originated outside our community is my understanding. They went somewhere out of our bubble and came to school.”

Given the hundreds of hours dedicated to preparation for this year, Bagshaw said everything was in place for response. That entire kindergarten class is now attending remotely, and the teacher is well enough to conduct the class from home.

“We gave the teacher a day to compose herself and have things in order, and we’ll be ready on Tuesday for a full day of learning for our kids,” Bagshaw said. 

Those students who are able to log on with adult help will.

“We have a software program called EdPuzzle that our teacher can download videos on and we have the ability to put that on iPad, so our kids, independent of internet access can actually view those videos so they can still interact and answer questions and engage in the material,” Bagshaw said, explaining the additional plans in place, such as homework packets, phone calls, etc. “With parents working and grandparents watching kids, it’s easier if we do it in ways they don’t have to have internet access.”

Everything was in place to get the students home and to supply for their learning needs remotely, so the plan is working. A para-educator in the classroom has quarantined as well.

“An abundance of caution is my approach right now. If we don’t continue to be diligent, we won’t have any school, so maintaining some school is our primary focus right now. We don’t want to go to any other option than as much brick-and-mortar schooling as we possible can,” Bagshaw said. “The remote learning is not the best for kids, and you know what? Our kids want to be here so bad. They do not want to go home. They want to be in school.”

The 14 days of all those students away from the school should mitigate the potential of any of them infecting anybody else, should they have the virus.

“It’s amazing how one person can affect so many,” Bagshaw said. “Some people think I have overreacted, but I would rather that than under-react. It’s good we had a plan and we knew what steps to take. Nobody in our facilities is feeling they are in an unsafe environment. It was very systematically handled. I think we did as well of a job as we could. That comes from hundreds of hours of strategizing and planning since March how we were going to open schools effectively.

“Unfortunately these things will occur, but I think all of our processes and communications were very timely and in order. We got to communicate with our patrons and parents before Facebook did. I think we were out in front of it. We will learn from it and do better and communicate faster. Every time something happens, we will learn more and more how to manage.

“We’re doing everything we can do and I don’t know what more we can do other than wrap them all in their own tiny little bubble, but we can’t do that,” he said. “Swift action ensures they will be able to come back to school and have more days in school.”

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