As of last report, there were eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the Yuma schools, and approximately 280 students and staff under 14-day quarantine.
And probably at least 100 more have joined them in remote learning, as all of YHS, which had 172 in quarantine as of Tuesday, is closed to in-person learning, as well as a classroom at Morris Elementary, and now the seventh-grade class at Yuma Middle School.
Yuma School District-1 was just two-and-a-half weeks into the 2020-21 school year when the first case was confirmed last Wednesday, September 16.
The first case involved a YHS student, the district announced two more YHS cases on Saturday, and there was a fourth Monday, along with a confirmed case at YMS.
“It’s been difficult and it’s been complicated,” Yuma-1 Superintendent Dianna Chrisman said Monday night during the Yuma-1 Board of Education’s regular monthly meeting.
After the first case was confirmed last Wednesday, the district announced all of YHS would go to remote learning for Thursday and Friday, and a classroom at Morris Elementary would do so for 14 days.
The district worked Thursday and Friday with the Northeast Colorado Health Department on “contact tracing” to determine who would have had direct contact with the student. A total of 55 students and staff were identified, and were notified Friday afternoon that they would have to be in quarantine until September 29.
Yuma-1 also announced that everyone else at YHS would return to in-person learning this past Monday, September 21. Chrisman explained the district had the staffing issue worked out, covering for those who would have to be out, while the quarantined students would do synchronous remote learning.
However, the school district then announced Saturday evening that there were two more confirmed cases within YHS. That eventually led to 45 more students and staff being identified through contact tracing that they had direct contact and would have to join the quarantine.
The whole school would have to go to remote learning through the end of September.
District leaders stressed the point that it was not three confirmed cases that closed down YHS, but rather it was a loss of staff to quarantine. The school simply could not cover all the classrooms for those students who could return to in-person learning.
However, after Monday’s announcement of a fourth YHS case, there were about 100 or less students not on quarantine as that resulted in another 72 identified with direct contact.
Chrisman noted that it is the Northeast Colorado Department of Health that determines who goes on quarantine, and the dates it is in effect. She said the schools’ role is to make sure those students and staff are not in school.
However, there is an exception for staff.
Board President Dan Ross asked why some teachers doing the remote learning still were wearing masks.
Chrisman said health officials are allowing teachers who are on quarantine to teach remotely from their classrooms if they remain in complete isolation and wear a mask at all times. She said she is trying to get a determination from health officials if those teachers can take off their face coverings while alone in their classroom.
Many in the community have wondered if a student can come back quicker if they get a test and it proves negative.
YHS Principal Brady Nighswonger said district leaders asked that same question, and were told the guidelines have changed, and anyone with direct contact has to quarantine for 14 days no matter a test result.
Chrisman said Monday night the district has received many questions about a relatively-small number of cases having such a big impact, particularly in light of the district’s “reopening plan” which called for remote learning for at least two weeks if there were at least 30 confirmed cases in one week. The plan called for the “Yellow Phase” if it reached 10 cases in one week. That phase called for such things as eating in classrooms, all students and staff being screened after arriving at school, and more, but in-person learning would continue.
Well, about one-third of Yuma-1 students are now on remote learning, but the other 600 or so still are going to school, thanks to contact tracing narrowing down those who definitely need to quarantine.
However, Chrisman explained that the guidelines have chanced since the reopening plan — which was done collaboratively with all school districts in Yuma and Washington counties, along with health officials — was finalized in August.
“Everything keeps changing, we keep getting new guidelines,” she said. “And we didn’t realize the impact of quarantine on staff.”
The state of Colorado has shifted to a three-prong approach — cumulative cases in a county, active cases, and testing.
Chrisman said area school leaders need to revisit their reopening plans, as they meet weekly.
Ross asked about how are masks supposed to help if this is occurring. YHS has been very stringent in making students wear masks entering and leaving the school, as well as when in the hallways between classes, though they are allowed to take them off when in class.
Chrisman said she cannot answer questions about the efficacy of masks, saying that was up to health officials, and all that school leaders can do is follow those orders.
Ross said he called the NCHD himself on Monday with his questions. He said he talked to two different people and got two different answers. He was sent to a third person, he said, and was put on hold, and decided at that point it was not worth it to stay on the line.
Chrisman said the staff is physically and emotionally exhausted but has vowed to find a way through it. Ross mentioned watching the mental health of students, particularly those diagnosed. Chrisman said that is being addressed.
Otis at 6, return to class September 29
Otis School District R-3 was the first local district to announce a confirmed COVID-19 case, last Monday, September 14.
The whole district moved to remote learning until September 25.
However, that has changed as cases associated with the schools keep increasing.
The district administration announced the sixth positive case this past Tuesday, September 22. The decision was made to remain on remote learning through the end of this week, returning to in-person learning on Tuesday, September 29.
“It is our belief, that four extra days for people to isolate and quarantine, outweigh coming back to school in-person for one day this week,” a letter from Superintendent Dave Eastin on the district’s website read. “This decision is being made in hopes that we can sustain in-person learning when we return. We will begin in-person learning on Tuesday, September 29. We thank you for your patience and flexibility with these decisions and during these trying times. Please stay diligent in the wearing of masks and social distancing.”