Grand Island Public Schools will remain in session despite high COVID-19 numbers in the Central District Health Department’s three-county area.
The school district hosted a town hall via Facebook Live, during which it laid out its plans for moving forward. The district plans to remain in its Reimagined model, with 85% of students learning on-site and 15% online in virtual school.
GIPS Superintendent Tawana Grover said the Reimagined plan was not built with the CDHD risk dial in mind, unlike some other local schools. Instead, she said it was built with the advice of CDHD and local physicians.
“So you may see the risk dial going back to red, yellow or whatever, but we do work alongside the CDHD, the doctors and so forth and take in a lot of information to make the best decision,” Grover said. “Our pandemic team still is in place and we meet on a daily basis. We review all the data from across the state and the nation. We meet with the CDHD superintendent team every week and ESU 10 every other week. So we are staying up to date as much as possible with information.”
On Monday, CDHD set the risk dial at 3.1 — severe level — up from 2.9 — high level — last week. Last week, 211 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in the Central District.
Grover said GIPS has to other learning models built into its return-to-school plan: GIPS Select, where certain programs are on-site, while others are done remotely, and GIPS Remote where all students will be taught virtually. She said the district does not plan to move to either of these models at this time, but things could change based on the COVID-19 situation.
“One of the things that continues to be our motto is that what is working today may not work tomorrow,” Grover said. “We have some things about some key areas to keeping our schools open. It has been very interesting to watch the information evolve and think about the best approach to continuing to navigate a pandemic and still keep our students in school.”
CDHD Health Director Teresa Anderson said GIPS has done “an excellent job” of containing the spread of COVID-19 in its schools and that both CDHD and the school district want this to continue.
“We discovered of the course of 11 weeks since beginning school that kids are safer in school,” she said. “There is little, if any, spread of the virus in a school setting. We are seeing the virus in the community — everywhere — but we are seeing that within the school setting, we are not having those outbreaks where a whole class is being quarantined or isolated.”
Grover said that as GIPS moves forward, it is “necessary and vital” that students and staff continue to follow its safety protocols to keep everyone in school.
COVID-19 test available to GIPS students
Chris Vrooman, lead nurse at GIPS, discussed the steps that are taken if a student tests positive for COVID-19 in school. If and when a student tests positive, she gets together with the building nurses, administrators and Associate Superintendent Robin Dexter to discuss what close contacts that individual may have had with their peers.
“Usually, these center around lunch because that is the time when students are unmasked. That really has been the biggest concern,” Vrooman said. “We do work with the health department on contact tracing and they do that. That is their role and we are there to support them with any of the school information that they need, such as lunch contacts and those sorts of things.”
Vrooman said GIPS has partnered with CDHD to provide free COVID-19 testing to students through TestNebraska. She said the test is free to families and that parents should contact their school nurse if their student needs a test.
GIPS said no COVID-19 testing will be done without parental consent.
“Some of our nurses have been trained to perform the swab for the test,” Vrooman said. “It is sent out just like it is with TestNebraska. It takes three to five days — sometimes a little sooner — to get test results back. It has been a real benefit to have available to our families.”
Anderson acknowledged that TestNebraska can take too long to get results back to students and that a child has to be sent home while they wait for their test results. She and Grover said there is a possibility that GIPS soon may acquire some rapid COVID-19 tests.
“We are working with GIPS because that would be a great tool in helping both us (CDHD) and the school know if a child is positive for COVID or something else,” Anderson said. “We are hoping to roll that out in the next couple weeks. It is a really simple test and I think it is going to be a really valuable tool for identifying those kids that have symptoms and may be positive for COVID early, rather than waiting two or three days.”