Next week, LSR7 will release the district's plan for school this fall. It is supposed to include online and in-person options for families to consider prior to registration. Given that the coronavirus pandemic has created a rapidly changing set of circumstances, it is difficult for any school district to plan for every contingency. Nonetheless, district parents are eagerly anticipating what the options might include for their kids to continue their education this fall.
Governmental agencies, including Jackson County, have issued guidance documents for re-entry. However, it is yet to be seen which, if any, guidance documents the district’s plan will include. Assuming that LSR7 does intend to comply, how many positive coronavirus cases will trigger a school closure?
Jackson County released Phase 2.5 recommendations on reopening that does include direction for school districts concerning when to close a school building or an entire district based upon the number of positive coronavirus test results. This recommended formula is described on page 23, the second to last page of the document below.
The document states that on any given day, any school district or school building observing a 5% student body infection rate should close for 10 days for quarantine and cleaning. Should a district or school building observe a 4% infection rate over two consecutive days, that district or building should close for 10 days. Any district or building in the county which observes a 3% infection rate for 3 consecutive days should, according to the county, close for ten days.
Using the Missouri Comprehensive Data System (MCDS) database, we can estimate the numbers of kids who would need to test positive for coronavirus in order to trigger a building or district 10-day closure.
As an example, looking at Campbell Middle School, should 30 kids test positive for three days in a row, then Campbell would shut down for 10 days. Should 40 kids test positive for 2 days in a two, then the school would shut down for 10 days. If on any one day, 50 kids test positive for the coronavirus, Campbell would shut down for 10 days.
For the district as a whole to shut down, 911 kids would need to test positive for the virus in one day, 729 kids over 2 days, or 547 kids over three days.
It is unclear at this time:
who will be responsible for testing,
what will trigger testing,
how parents will be informed of numbers of positive cases in their children's school buildings,
which lab(s) will be processing the testing,
how false positives will be addressed in terms of quality assurance, and
how quickly results may be expected.
It is also unclear how teacher infection rates shall be addressed, if at all.
Additionally, the county references advisement from the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA). Here's a link to the document. There are some discrepancies between the MSBA directives and those of the county. For example, in Appendix A, MSBA Center for Education Safety provides a Sample Health Protocol, updated 5/29/20 based on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, for schools to consider adopting. Page 28 includes an example protocol for school building closures:
Confirmed Case of COVID-19 In the School Building
When there is confirmation that a person infected with COVID-19 was in a school building, the LEA will contact the local health department immediately. Unless extenuating circumstances exist, the LEA will close the school building for a minimum of 2-5 days and work with the local health department to assess factors such as the likelihood of exposure to employees and students in the building, the number of cases in the community and other factors that will determine when the building should reopen.
The LEA will contact parents/students and employees and notify them that a person who tested positive for COVID-19 was in the building and encourage cooperation with the LEA and the local health department to trace contacts with the individual. The individual who tested positive will not be identified in communications to the school community at large but may need to be selectively identified for contact tracing by the health department.
While the school building is closed, all school activities will be cancelled or rescheduled, regardless of whether the activity was to take place in the building or another location, including extracurricular activities, before and after-school programs, and field trips. Parents/students and employees will be encouraged to stay at home until more information is provided by the LEA or the health department.
This seems to state that one confirmed coronavirus case should shut a school building down which is a big difference compared to the Jackson County Health Department guidance.
It is also notable that the county guidance requires schools to incorporate requirements from both county and MSBA guidance documents into their local plans. And, the MSBA guidance states clearly on page 16 that school districts must submit their plans to DESE for approval by June 15.
The CDC has a very simple decision tree to illustrate its recommended practices:
Time will tell if we meet those standards. And so are the days of our lives, friends.
This small exercise only scratches the surface of what the district is facing upon returning to school this fall. Schools have become more than just places of learning. They handle many social services for communities. If they do not reopen, what happens to those kids who will not eat? Is our community set up to step in and help? Will neighbors help neighbors? Will parents working at home be able to help parents working outside of the home? How might our community come together to help our kids? And, will the district allow us to help?
The school district cannot win easily in this situation given all of the different governing bodies involved in overseeing the re-entry plan. Let's just hope they have devised a clear and concise protocol that will allow each student the opportunity to learn safely while being protective of all stakeholders involved.
The next Board meeting is a week away, Thursday, July 16, 2020. However, the board will be spending their working session on Wednesday even going through the district's preliminary plan. Both the working session and the board meeting will be live-streamed on their YouTube channel. We will know much more by then. Stay tuned!!
NOTE: Edited to correct board meeting date.