We have all heard that multiple schools in Oklahoma have had to close due to COVID19 issues. I would like to give you a little information about how we are dealing with this in Inola and how a decision to close an individual school would come about.
We are beginning to see a few more students and staff test positive for COVID19, but that is not the biggest issue when it comes to keeping the school open. The bigger problem is the number of students and staff who get quarantined by the Health Department because they were exposed to a person who tested positive. Remember, you only get quarantined if you had direct exposure to someone who tests positive for the virus.
When a student tests positive, the Health Department requires us to contact trace everyone they were within 6 feet of for more than 15 minutes (they call it the ‘time and distance’ rule). The Health Department will quarantine all who were within that range for the 15 minutes. So, if a student who goes to seven different classes and sits by three or four different students in each class tests positive for the virus, the Health Department will quarantine up to 28 students! If the student is in an extra-curricular activity, it means an even larger number get sent home. Whenever there is physical activity involved there is greater chance of contagion due to sweating, yelling, etc. The Health Dept. usually quarantines a larger number of students when this is the case.
The large majority of these students and teachers are not sick (and hopefully do not get sick), but they have to be included in the quarantine. As an example of this, we recently had three students test positive at one of our schools, but we had to send close to 70 students home under quarantine.
Right now, all schools are having a hard time finding substitute teachers. It is even harder to find substitute bus drivers. Since over half of our bus drivers are also teachers or teacher’s aids, if one of them gets quarantined, it’s a double-hit to us. We just had to send home three teachers because they were exposed—and two of them were also bus drivers. As you can see, it will not take too many instances like this where we would have to make a decision about closing a school or cancelling some bus routes.
We firmly believe that face-to-face instruction is the best for students and are committed to staying open if we can. If we do get to a point that we don’t have enough substitutes to cover for either quarantined or sick teachers, our plan is to only close the individual school that is effected. As an example, we might have a situation where we have to close the High School but are able to keep the Middle School and Elementary open. If I make an all-call announcing a situation like this, I will try to be very clear about which school (or schools) is closed and which ones are open.
As we have seen at some surrounding schools, there may come a time we will not be able to run all of our bus routes. But if we have enough teachers available, we will keep the school open. If this is the case I will announce which routes are not able to run. To avoid confusion, please make sure you know the bus number for the bus your child rides!
We will try to get any needed announcements out to you as soon as any of these issues come about. Please be aware that these things seem to snowball very rapidly and with no warning.
As always, if you have questions please contact us.