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Education

Kansas and Missouri Students Are Quarantining Because Coronavirus Is Spreading In Schools

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Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Schools are having to quarantine students when classmates and teachers test positive. The CDC has said reopening schools is risky right now, but safety protocols like masking can make transmission less likely.

To keep students in school, more people need to wear masks, practice social distancing and minimize contact with others.

Remember way back in July when Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson told parents to plan for intermittent school closures?

Well, less than a month into the school year for most Kansas and Missouri students, those closures and quarantines have begun.

Here are some of the confirmed cases making headlines:

  • Health officials in Johnson County have instructed more than 100 people connected to Timber Creek Elementary in Overland Park to quarantine. The Blue Valley School District reported 16 new cases in the first week of school and 19 in the second week. Close contacts — anyone who spent more than 10 minutes within six feet of the infected individual without masks — should stay home for 14 days, guidance some parents are protesting.
  • Private schools, hailed by some parents as an alternative to public schools starting the semester online, have already had to make adjustments because of the coronavirus. Notably, St. Teresa’s moved to a hybrid model a week into the school year because at least eight students tested positive. The entire football team at Bishop Miege had to quarantine earlier this month after five players tested positive. This week, the school is on a hybrid, block schedule to minimize contact between students, though all students are expected to return Sept. 28.
  • About a hundred people had close contact with two people at Derby High School who tested positive for the coronavirus. Student journalists first reported on the quarantine. The close contacts included classmates and student-athletes, including “the entire freshman football team.” Still, the school plans to play Salina South later in the week.
  • Middle school students in Chillicothe, Missouri, are learning remotely for two weeks “due to an increasing number of COVID-19 positive students.” Initially, the school district hoped to contain the outbreak by switching to a hybrid model where students attended every other day, but then more students and staff tested positive. So many people would’ve had to quarantine that the Livingston Health Department advised the district to close the school until Oct. 5.
  • In Newton County, Missouri, so many students were missing school due to having to quarantine that county health officials said they could return to class. That’s counter to recommendations from state health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And those are just a few of the active cases and clusters in Kansas and Missouri schools currently.

But the fact that students, teachers and staff are having to quarantine shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. Experts warned this was going to happen when schools reopened. Education officials in both states emphasized the need for contingency plans, for school districts and families. And last week, the CDC put out guidance reiterating what local health officials have been saying this whole time: In communities where the coronavirus is spreading, there is a high risk of transmission in schools.

Tracking coronavirus cases in schools isn’t easy, and some states make it harder than others. Last week, Kansas started reporting some limited information about clusters in schools, only to abruptly stop. Missouri hasn’t made any information about school-related coronavirus cases available.

Some local districts are trying to be as transparent as possible about cases in their schools. We know about the quarantine at Timber Creek Elementary in Overland Park because the Blue Valley School District has a COVID-19 dashboard that parents can access. Independence, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City and Raymore-Peculiar are also making coronavirus case information readily available.

So what should parents do with that information? Well, that’s going to depend on their tolerance for risk. Students can, have and will come into contact with the coronavirus at school. Most of us — 90% of Americans, according to the CDC — live in counties where local pandemic conditions make reopening schools risky. (And if you happen to live in a county that hasn’t reported any cases yet, know that could change at any time.)

For some families with immunocompromised, high-risk members, no amount of risk may be tolerable right now, so virtual school might be the best option.

Some students need in-person school, especially those receiving special education services that can’t be replicated online.

Other families need child care, want socialization or hate online school.

But public health officials say the only way students stay in school this semester is if we all mask up, maintain social distance and minimize the contact we have with others — important mitigation protocols that will determine whether a few cases at a school become an uncontained outbreak.