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Despite state guidelines, schools aren’t going remote

Staff writer

Despite clearly exceeding state criteria regarding the community spread of COVID-19, Marion County school officials have decided not to cancel face-to-face classes and instead are watching numbers in their school buildings to decide whether to move toward remote learning.

Unlike state standards, guidelines in Marion County’s five districts are based only on the percentage of students and staff with COVID at the time the decision is made.

Marion school district has no plans to switch from on-site classes “unless we would reach that level that the health department would say it’s not safe to have students in our building,” superintendent Aaron Homburg said.

Kansas Department of Education guidelines specifically address community spread, not just cases within school buildings.

When a community’s rate of positive tests for COVID-19 exceeds 10%, the state recommends going to distance learning. As of Tuesday evening, Marion County’s rate was 3½ times that — 34.9%.

“If there is very little community spread, schools may operate close to normal with some preventive measures in place, and an on-site learning environment would be appropriate,” the department’s guide to operations reads. “If the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community increases, a district will need to increase preventive measures, which could include limiting the number of students at school, a hybrid learning environment or shifting to a remote learning environment where few or no students attend school onsite.”

The guidelines say operations can be normal, or “green,” if positive test rates in the county — the percentage of positive tests out of all tests performed — is 5% or less; operations switch to “yellow,” with a hybrid and on-site model for grades 5 and under, and a hybrid-only model for higher grades, if the percentage of positive tests is 5.1 to 9.9%. Operations switch to “orange,” with on-site and hybrid models for grades 5 and under and remote learning only for higher grades if the percentage of positive tests is 10 to 14.9%. Operations at all levels switch to “red,” with remote learning only, if the percentage of positive tests is 15% or higher. Marion County’s rate is more than twice the “red” level.

However, county superintendents decided to base their decisions only on the number of COVID cases among students and staff, as discussed at a July meeting with the county health department.

“We’ll do that according to a building-by-building decision,” Hillsboro superintendent Max Heinrichs said. “We’re not necessarily concerning ourselves with the number in the community. That’s not the number that drives us.”

All districts use three operation levels: “green,” with active school-related cases less than 6%; “yellow,” with active school-related cases between 6 and 9.99% active cases; and “red,” with active school-related cases 10% or more.

Hillsboro’s two building have about 325 and 300 students, Heinrichs said.

“We’ve been pretty lucky,” Heinrichs said. “We’re seeing some things. I think it’s going to change.”

He said some students have been quarantined because parents were diagnosed with COVID. He also said he expected Halloween to cause some increases in COVID cases.

He noticed that a volleyball tournament at Dodge City had few spectators — primarily parents and administration.

“People are trying to protect themselves,” Heinrichs said.

Centre superintendent Susan Beeson said her district could change to remote learning if the district believed it necessary.

Centre has six students in quarantine because they are known to have been exposed, she said.

“I think our students are doing a really good job of wearing a mask,” she said. “I’m being a hard-nose on that. Kids might think I’m a little hard-nosed on it, but I’m looking at the big picture.”

She said that as a school leader, she saw all of the children as being under her charge.

Ron Traxson, Peabody-Burns superintendent, said that while the district is following health department recommendations, it also was watching community cases.

“Right now the community is not yellow or orange,” he said, without elaboration.

An upswing in county COVID cases has some Peabody students in quarantine because of positive cases in the community, Traxson said.

Marion superintendent Homburg said if there were too many COVID cases in the community or too many in quarantine, the school might not be able to continue on-site classes. He did not, however, specify how many might be too many.

“If I can’t find people to work, we wouldn’t be able to continue,” Homburg said.

Five Goessel students have been reported as having the virus to date, Goessel superintendent Amanda Lowrance said.

“We have been staying pretty consistent around here,” she said. “Though it is rising around us, we seem to be able to keep it out of the school based on what we’re doing.”

Lowrance said that she was not deviating from decisions made in July. She is reminding parents to keep their children home if they are sick has helped the district.

Last modified Nov. 5, 2020

 

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