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1 in 4 students exposed in 1 week; But 4 of 5 districts still letting exposed students attend classes

Staff writer

Despite having more than a quarter of one school district’s students exposed to COVID-19 at the same time, only one district is making students who have been exposed stay home.

And that looks to change soon.

Marion, Peabody-Burns, Goessel, and Centre schools allow parents and students to choose whether to come to school wearing masks if they have been exposed. Hillsboro does not.

At Hillsboro, if a student has been ordered to quarantine — stay apart from others until it is known whether he or she will become sick — the student is not permitted to come to school, superintendent Max Heinrichs said.

The school district will start testing students for COVID next week. Students who were in close contact with another student diagnosed with COVID will be tested daily, he said.

“If they are within six feet, we turn in those names, and it’s up to the state to quarantine,” he said.

Referring matters to the state has posed some problems, however.

Heinrichs said that last spring, when the district turned in a list of names, the state did not notify students’ families that they must quarantine until after the quarantine period had ended.

“One case is too many, but we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do,” he said. “Hopefully people will do what they are supposed to.”

When a student gets on a bus without a masks, he or she is told to put one on, Heinrichs said. Masks are available on buses.

So far this school year, 39 Hillsboro students have had to stay home after being exposed. Two students tested positive and were isolated. Two others were exposed shortly before the school year began.

In the county’s other school districts, a student who has been exposed has a choice whether to stay home and study remotely or come to school wearing a mask.

Going home was an option selected by at least one Centre student who reportedly wrote “freedom” as his reason for not wanting to wear a mask and remain in school.

Centre superintendent Larry Geist acknowledged that his district had a sudden spike in COVID exposures a couple of weeks ago.

A total of 131 Centre students have been tested because they were exposed to COVID since the school year began.

“We’ve been up to 111 at one time a couple weeks ago,” he said.

That’s more than a quarter of the student body.

Thirteen students have tested positive. All were required to leave school and study remotely.

A total of 15 students who had been exposed have chosen to stay home since school began, with 12 of them choosing to start studying from home just this week, Geist said.

Centre’s policy is that students who had close contact with COVID patients must be tested to stay at school.

Goessel superintendent Mark Crawford said students who choose to attend school after being exposed to COVID must wear a mask and practice social distancing, hand washing, and proper coughing etiquette.

“Our parents and families are very understanding. They’re very trusting,” Crawford said. “We work with them if they want to stay and learn or stay at home.”

If a student doesn’t want to follow COVID procedures, he works with the family.

All students are required to wear a mask while riding a bus, and none have refused, Crawford said.

Crawford provided a weekly report indicating two elementary students were sick with the virus last week and one middle /high school student was sick the week before.

Crawford did not respond to a request for total numbers of students infected or exposed to COVID for the school year.

Marion superintendent Aaron Homburg said no students there had refused to comply with COVID-19 policies, and he’s not sure what the district would do if that happened.

“It’s the parents’ choice whether they stay home or are required to wear a mask,” Homburg said. “We’ve had a couple classes in the elementary that had to be tested every three days.”

So far, 65 students have been tested because they were exposed to the virus. That includes 20 students connected to the middle school’s volleyball team. No high school students have needed to be tested.

So far, 11 students have been sent home after testing positive.

“We’ve had some parents who have chosen to keep their kids home,” Homburg said. “That’s their choice.”

Antoinette Root, superintendent at Peabody-Burns, said no student had refused to comply with COVID rules in her district.

If students test positive, they cannot attend school. If they test negative, they can attend school but must follow the district’s rules.

“They are supposed to stay six feet away and wear a mask, and they cannot attend any after-school or before-school activities,” Root said.

Root said fewer than five students had been sent home, but not all were sent home because of COVID. If students have a fever for any reason, they are sent home until they have been fever-free for 72 hours.

She said 25 students at Peabody-Burns had been tested because of exposure to COVID.

Students riding buses are required to wear masks, and all are complying, she said. The district has masks available on each bus.

None of the schools are requiring all students to mask up despite rapidly rising COVID diagnoses in the county.

According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment data, five times as many new COVID diagnoses were made in Marion County during the first five weeks of this school year than the first five weeks of the 2020-’21 school year.

Last school year, 33 residents were diagnosed during the first five weeks of school. This year, 183 were.

Thirty-one were diagnosed during the first week of school, 44 the second week, 43 the third week, 38 the fourth week, and 27 the fifth week.

Last modified Sept. 23, 2021

 

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