Despite the Central District Health Department’s risk dial moving into the red — severe — category Monday, five local school districts say they will keep students in class for now.
CDHD set the risk dial at 3.1, up from 2.9 last week. Last week, there were 211 positive COVID-19 cases reported in the district. As of Monday evening, 42 positive cases have been reported this week.
CDHD updates its COVID-19 risk dial every Monday.
Teresa Anderson, health director for the CDHD, said the risk dial is based on the number of positive COVID-19 cases, the positivity rate and the ability to adequately do contact tracing.
She said based on the projections that have been made by public health experts, she expects the risk dial to be in the severe category for the next month or two and probably “for the foreseeable future.”
Anderson said CDHD meets weekly with superintendents in the area’s health district to give them advice, provide them the most current information and advise them based on what experts from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Center of Global Health Studies are saying.
After meeting with superintendents Monday, Anderson said she believes it is safer for students to be in school rather than learning from their homes.
“The reason we support that right now is that while we are still seeing some positive cases in school among the students and staff, they are not necessarily getting it in school,” she said.
“We think those exposures are occurring outside of school in community or home settings.”
Anderson questioned where kids would be if they were not in school and what the unintended consequences of having schools closed would be. As a result, she said, CDHD is advising superintendents to look at ways to continue to hold in-person classes.
“The schools have done a tremendous job at taking measures to protect their children and staff, and to keep COVID out of the schools,” Anderson said. “We meet with schools on a regular basis to discuss positive cases and any potential exposure that took place. We work with them to determine what kids and staff should be in school and which ones should be at home to quarantine or isolate.”
In a letter to Grand Island Public Schools families posted on the district’s Facebook page, Superintendent Tawana Grover said GIPS plans to remain in its Reimagined model with 85% of students learning on-site at school and 15% online in virtual school.
GIPS will host a town hall, broadcast live on its Facebook page, at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss its plans moving forward with its GIPS Reimagined model. The Independent will provide coverage of the event in Thursday’s paper and online at theindependent.com.
GICC will remain open
Jordan Engle, principal at Grand Island Central Catholic, said despite CDHD moving its risk dial into the severe category, school will remain in session.
When GICC announced its reopening plan in July, Engle told The Independent at the time that if the CDHD risk dial was at a severe level, it was likely that education would switch to a virtual setting.
That is no longer the case.
“I think it has changed for a lot of schools,” Engle said. “Our biggest thing is staying in contact with the public health officials. As all of the different public health districts in the state have become a little bit more familiar with how to react to COVID, what things are and are not working and what the research is telling us in terms of how sick kids get or don’t get, the recommendations from health officials has become, ‘There is really no reason to cancel school.’”
Engle said as a school administrator, he “absolutely” feels safe having students in school despite the severe COVID-19 risk level.
“In school, we can oversee what they are doing and make sure that they are using good hand hygiene, that they are social distancing and wearing masks,” he said. “I am far more concerned with what happens when students are not in our school buildings and students have no control over what they are doing. It is really hard to have that level of self-discipline where you are constantly doing the right thing to keep yourself safe and healthy.”
Engle said GICC has been sanitizing the school “constantly” and students and staff members have been wearing masks. He said he expects extra precautions to start once winter activities begin.
“In terms of the school day, we started extremely conservatively anyways,” he said. “We have had very limited cases in our student body and the cases that we have had are unrelated to anything that has happened during the school day. I have all the faith in the world that our school day policies are working with the temperature-taking, the masking, cleaning desks between classes and everything else.”
Northwest Public Schools: Open
Northwest Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Edwards said the district will continue to have students in the classroom learning. He said Northwest is in Tier 2 — moderate risk — of its return to school model, where it has remained since the start of the school year.
Under Tier 2 of Northwest’s plan, students and staff members are encouraged to practice social distancing if possible. Face coverings are optional for students and staff, but are recommended.
Passing periods will stay the same under Tier 2. Elementary recess also will occur as usual.
In grades preschool through fifth grade, face coverings are strongly recommended, but not required.
In grades 6-12, face coverings are required when social distancing of 6 feet or more is not possible.
Edwards said the CDHD risk dial is only one piece of data Northwest’s COVID-19 response team looks at when determining its tier level as part of its return-to-school model. The team meets on Friday each week to determine the following week’s risk level for the school district.
“There is a lot of subjective data in there,” Edwards said of the CDHD risk dial. “When our COVID team meets, it is one piece of data that we look at. It is not the single indicator and it does not correlate 100% to our tier level and our return-to-school plan.”
Edwards echoed Engle’s thoughts, saying he feels it is “absolutely” safe for students to continue in school despite the high COVID-19 case numbers.
“The best for kids right now is in the classroom,” he said. “They need to be here learning from all the experts and that is in a classroom setting where they can learn one-on-one and in a group setting in a controlled, safe environment.”
Heartland Lutheran: Open
The Rev. Kurt Busskohl, interim principal at Heartland Lutheran High School, said his school will remain in session as well despite the severe COVID-19 risk level in the community. He said the school has maintained a mandatory mask and social distancing policy since school began.
“Those times (during lunch) are when masks are off by those persons at one table,” Busskohl said. “Those are instances where if we have had someone get sick, the students who are at that table end up going into a quarantine. Those have turned out quite well with everyone quarantined back in school.”
Busskohl said that in addition to masks and social distancing, Heartland Lutheran does temperature checks and health screenings for each person coming into the building. He added the school has limited the number of people who can enter the building and requires advanced notice if parents are coming to the school to pick up their child.
Trinity Lutheran: Open
Judy Bartels, interim principal at Trinity Lutheran School, said the school plans to “continue what we are doing” with having students physically in the classrooms learning.
“We are following the health guidelines that we have been asked to (follow) with masks, social distancing and cleaning that we have done,” she said. “We will stay open as long as they (CDHD) let us because we feel the kids need to be in school as much as possible.”
Bartels said Trinity Lutheran has required masks and social distancing since school began this fall and that “the kids have been doing really well with it.” She added the school is continuing to do extra cleaning and sanitizing.