Note: This is the second story about the Sept. 21 Abilene Board of Education special meeting where members discussed the move to remote learning caused by a spike in COVID-19 cases. Part 1 included the board’s frustration with the closure of the schools, particularly since health guidelines like wearing masks, sanitizing and other directives were being followed.
After Abilene School Board members talked about the situation that led to district schools moving to remote learning, Board Member Chris West asked, “What are we going to do differently?”
Members said they were under the impression that having everyone wear masks would protect students so they would not have to quarantine, but that is not what happened.
District Nurse Brandi McGivney clarified that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment never said masks would stop someone from being quarantined.
“The issue is if you are within six feet from someone else for an extended period of time, for 10 minutes or longer…then you are considered exposed,” McGivney said.
During an athletic activity, the parameters are different. “They are moving around constantly, not sitting there next to someone within six feet for an extended period of time,” McGivney explained.
“So you’re saying it’s riskier for a kid to be sitting next to a kid in a classroom doing their work, not sweating, then it is to play basketball against someone?” Board Member Jennifer Waite questioned.
“I’m just following the guidelines,” McGivney said.
Board Member Randy Gassman said some parents and patrons were saying incorrectly that entire classrooms had been quarantined due to one student testing positive. He asked McGivney to clarify that was not the case.
McGivney agreed, saying students who were asked to quarantine were those sitting within “the bubble,” or less than six feet away.
Six feet apart
Board President Kyle Becker asked what could be done to curb some of the quarantine issues.
“The only way to do that is to get our students six feet apart,” McGivney replied, explaining how exhausting the process of contact tracing had become and she was just as frustrated by the quarantine as the board members. Like many others, her family also had been personally affected.
(The following day the Dickinson County Health Department declared a “community spread” situation, which means new cases cannot be traced back to a known case of COVID-19.)
West told McGivney the board supports her — although they were “chewing her out” — but they were receiving phone calls from patrons wanting to know why the kids could not be in school.
“Now we need to move forward and decide what we’re going to do to prevent it, instead of rahashing and wanting all these different answers,” West said.
Becker asked Superintendent Greg Brown if there was any way to keep students six feet apart.
“That way, when no one is sitting within six feet of the person who tested positive, we take out the kid who is sick and the rest stay in school,” Becker said.
Brown said schools have no choice but to find ways to keep students separated. He said some people have offered their church buildings or other spaces to use.
“We either need to change the space or the dynamics of who is in the building,” Brown said. “That’s the hybrid some districts are using.”
The hybrid model involves different students attending school on different days to reduce the number in the building on any given day.
Becker said he and most parents believe the students are doing what they had been asked to do in terms of taking precautions.
“It needs to be our responsibility to get them back there (in school) as quick as we can, if it’s possible to do it and do it well,” Becker said.
Brown said district administrators would begin working on a solution immediately.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.