Coping with COVID


Schools using variety of approaches


Area school superintendents in Lincoln and Pottawatomie Counties are taking various measures as they cope with COVID-19 while trying to keep students in class.

“We haven’t had to go virtual yet. We’ve been averaging two or three cases per week, but it jumped to about 15 last week,” said Prague School Supt. Vallery Feltman. “We had seven staff members out at the high school who either had tested positive or were in quarantine.”

Feltman noted that, “We have a couple of kids who are in ICU right now (last week).”

On Nov. 18, the school adopted a mask mandate for everyone in the school, including students and staff, and that will stay in force through Feb. 1.

“We’re trying to do that so we can stay in school.”

Feltman said if the class is small enough so kids can social distance, they can pull them down. Also if they are in the caf eteria or on the playground they can pull them down as well.

“We’ve averaged about 60 quarantined a week,” she stated.

The school district has been out all this week for Thanksgiving.

“We’re hoping to get our staff members back after Thanksgiving, but we’re also worried about a surge,” she said.

Feltman mentioned that all of the teachers have turned in seating charts and anytime there is an assembly, photos are taken in case some student tests positive for COVID.

“Then we can isolate those who need to quarantine and don’t have to completely shut down,” she added.

“We’re thankful we’ve been able to keep them in school so far since several schools around us are going virtual.”

Much like Prague, students in the Chandler School District hadn’t needed to go virtual until Tuesday. Nov. 17.

School Supt. Melody Toma explained that Chandler started an A-B schedule that day. “Depending what your name is in the alphabet will determine if you attend in class on Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. And they all are distance learning on Friday,” she said.

“The teachers are at school on Friday teaching the students virtually,” she noted.

Toma said, “Our cases of COVID in the district are relatively low. We’re very, very fortunate. We’re at less than one percent in the district,” she stressed, pointing to an enrollment of around 1,100 students.

She stated, “The reason we decided to go A-B is more about community spread. With A-B we can social distance every classroom,” she emphasized.

The days the students are not in class, they are attending virtually. “We’re maintaining a rigorous curriculum,” said Toma, noting that “in grades 7-12 we have provided devices in hot spots. All of those students can attend virtually.”

Toma said, “We kind of are looking at data, mostly site data and we get updates from the health department. More kids are out this week than before,” she acknowledged.

She pointed out, “We are finding that students are safer at our school when you look at the number of cases.

“We have cleaning protocols. Teachers sanitize their classrooms after each class and kids sanitize coming into the class and leaving the class as well.

“That’s really helped with our numbers,” she believes.

Toma also stated, “What we’re seeing is that county numbers are not correlating to what the numbers are in our district. They’re not exactly a true reflection of what the numbers are in our district.”

The superintendent related, “We’re staying very aware of what is going on in our community. We want to do what is best for Chandler.”

White Rock School hasn’t gone to distance learning, but is set up to do so if needed.

School Supt. Alicia Ebers said, “We’ve had several who have been quarantined. We’ve only had two positive cases, but no spread and those cases didn’t contract it at school and they weren’t related.

Ebers noted one class had to be quarantined five or six days. That’s because by the time we got the test results back, and there was a weekend involved and a planned virtual day, it turned out that way.”

She explained, “We don’t quarantine a class unless someone is positive. We sent that class home with packets so they didn’t miss out on anything.”

Ebers pointed to the school district’s ability to provide one on one devices for kids if needed. “And we have limited WiFi. We haven’t had anyone who has requested a device for a hot spot that we haven’t been able to provide,” she related.

The school is out this week for Thanksgiving.

“We’ve been on site all the time. But we’re set up for distance learning if needed,” she reiterated.

She stressed, “We do have some students who are distance learning for various reasons. We haven’t missed any days except for the ice storm when we took a day out and we distance learned for two days.”

Ebers said enrollment at White Rock is about 114 students.

“We aren’t a mask wearing school, but all assemblies are outside,” she said, citing their Veterans Day program as an example.

While parents aren’t allowed inside the school this year, Ebers emphasized, “We’re trying to maintain that connection and keep them involved. They are invited to our assemblies, and we’ve used our Facebook page as a way to keep them connected.

“Our parents have been super good and understanding. They’re good about cooperating and abiding with quarantine guidelines and very supportive of the measures and protocols we’re taking,” she continued.

Jeff Pruitt, Meeker School superintendent, said so far this year, “The entire district has not had to shut down or go virtual. The high school has gone completely virtual a couple of times, but the elementary and the middle school haven’t had to do that.”

Like most other schools throughout the area, Meeker is closed this entire week for Thanksgiving.

Pruitt said the high school had a virtual day last Friday.

“We look at the overall cases among our staff and students. At the end of each week, the Lincoln County Health Department provides us a report of the number of positives cases and those in quarantine in our area, and we base our decisions a lot on that,” Pruitt stressed.

He emphasized, too, that “We want to keep our doors open unless it’s necessary.”

Pruitt said as of late last week there were four positive cases in the district and those were with high school students.

“I think our teachers and administrators have done a good job keeping kids six feet apart. The high school kids are more mobile after classes are out in the afternoon,” he said.

Total enrollment in the district is around 660 and that is down about 100 from a year ago, he explained.

McLoud School Supt. Stanley decided that students would attend virtually beginning the week of Nov. 16 and they, too, are out all this week for Thanksgiving.

“We’ve just been inundated by COVID-19. I have 34 staff members out due to either testing positive or having to quarantine and 100 kids are out as well,” he said on Nov. 12.

I don’t have enough teachers to cover,” Stanley explained.

“Safety of staff and students comes first. That’s my number 1 priority. We can’t do anything else if they aren’t safe,” Stanley added.

“We checked out computers and sent packets home with the little kids,” Stanley noted.