A little more than one month into the school year, superintendent Michelle Havenstrite gave an update on COVID-19 in the district to the school board. At the time of the meeting Sept. 21, the district had two reported cases, one at the middle school and one at the high school, resulting 39 students quarantined.
“We quarantined a lot of kids coming out of the gate, that was startling to me,” Havenstrite said. “19 in one setting, 20 in another, that was higher than I wanted. We went back right away and looked at our social distancing. We have to spread them out, we have to do better. We’re doing that now. I’m not saying we won’t have an outbreak, but I am very proud.”
The process of quarantining students is ever changing, Havenstrite said, with the Jasper County Health Department taking the lead when a case is detected. From there, the department and school work together to identify contact tracing and notifying families affected.
“The process for quarantining students, we have been directed, and I need to say it seems like it is changing everyday, the process that we received recently is the quarantine, the school assists in determining who was within six feet for 15 minutes and Jasper County has the responsibility of officially recommending the quarantine,” Havenstrite said. “That is because they are the public health expert. There have been some very strong recommendations from administrators in Iowa, ISB, you do not quarantine, you are not a health expert, that is not your zone.”
Any notification that a child has to quarantine will come from the Jasper County Health Department. As a courtesy to those in the buildings, the school is sending a notice that there is a situation in the building.
“People need to understand that is a courtesy but just really thinking that through, I want them to know, I know we are small towns, a lot of people talk, I want them to have information upfront as much as they can,” Havenstrite said.
While working through the situation, Havenstrite asked to have a follow up letter sent to the families quarantined. Just recently, she, along with the school nurses, received a recommended letter the health department recommended the district assist them in following up. With the district’s access to addresses and phone numbers, she feels it is important to partner with the health department while working through any situations.
She also explained the process of identifying a case from the start.
“If we have a positive case, we wait until they call us. Jasper County will actually call us and say, for example, last night there is a student in your district. Then we do contract tracing, no matter what time it is, we gather together for contact tracing, who was within six feet for 15 minutes for more and we put together that list. Then, collaborate with them if there are some we are not sure about and then Jasper County provides that notice,” Havenstrite said.
The process can be hard at times because families are wanting more information than the school can give. The district is navigating the situation while still working to provide instruction to those in the classroom.
“It is hard … It is outside our zone, we’re not health professionals,” Havenstrite said. “I would like to ask people to have a little bit of grace.”
While the school does not have a mask mandate, she said a majority of the students are wearing masks. With only two cases in five weeks, she is proud of the efforts of students and staff through the difficult situation.
“I’m not saying we won’t have an outbreak, but I am very proud,” Havenstrite said. “We can’t be perfect, we can’t see everything so when you see something I appreciate bringing those concerns to our administrators and being partners with us but I am also going to tell you two cases in five weeks, that is pretty darn good compared to what you see other schools doing who are even in different learning settings.”
When students do have to go into quarantine, a question was raised about how non-traditional classroom assignments are handled.
“I know the classes that are more learning from a book, lectures are one thing and they can pick that up on a computer but how do we handle a class that has to be hands-on like woodworking or something like that,” board member Greg Ingle said.
Havenstrite said those types of classes are incredibly hard to complete in a home setting. With that in mind, it is her goal to continue to keep kids in the classroom for as long as possible.
“I wish a had a strategy to go, let’s send a packet of tools home for every kid, but I wouldn’t want to supervise my kid with tools. That’s why our approach is face-to-face learning is best,” Havenstrite said. “I have never wavered in my commitment to getting these kids back in school. If you saw them everyday and you look at the data we have, we are doing very well on the face-to-face instruction.”
Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or email@example.com