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By Mike Scott
It’s only the first week of school, and already dozens of students are out of class. As of Friday morning, 44 Middle School students were quarantined for close contact to COVID-19.
“Since school has started, we had two students at the Middle School test positive. 26 and 18 students were quarantined in those two situations,” said CCR-1 Superintendent Ritchie Kracht said Friday morning.
On Friday afternoon, the problem expanded to include Running Fox Elementary.
“We have three classrooms at Running Fox quarantined,” said Kracht late Friday.
He declined to say which grades were involved, since the low number of students could make them identifiable. A total of 39 students and one staff member were quarantined,with three positive tests.
Later on Friday, Kracht confirmed a fourth positive test, in a class that was already quarantined at Running Fox.
By the end of the day Friday, 83 students were out of school. Combined with students out of class from exposure before school started, the number topped 100.
In response, an emergency meeting of the CCR-1 school board was called for Sunday afternoon.
Nearly 50 staff members and members of the public were present.
Current guidelines from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services require close contacts of anyone testing positive.
Individuals that are within three feet of a positive case for more than 15 minutes in a 24 hour period are identified as close contacts. If all parties are vaccinated, only the positive test is required to quarantine away from school. The rest can attend class, but should quarantine from all non-education activities, including extracurricular activities.
“I am charged with following these guidelines,” Clark County Health Dept. Administrator Evelana Sutterfield said.
She acknowledged the difficulties the CCHD and CCR-1 are encountering.
“Neighboring school districts are doing different things. The Health Department and our board, and the school board, are all on the same page. We are following the CDC guidelines,” she said.
Several people took the opportunity to address the board, and passionate pleas were made on both sides of the divisive issue.
Most speakers wanted the return of healthy students (those with no symptoms but were identified as a close contact) to the classroom. Other disagreed, citing the risk of transmission to other students
One speaker compared the COVID-19 restrictions to Hitler, while another said they are like requiring a seat belt or helmet. Another said students are being denied their constitutional right to a free education, another said the burden was too much to ask from our children, and another cited the rise in depression and use of antidepressants, and yet another cited evidence of increase tooth decay and facial restructuring from wearing masks.
The question of liability on the part of the school was brought up.
“If we follow the Health Department guidelines, our school insurance will cover any liability,” said Kracht. “If we don’t it may not.”
“As an individual, I’m not comfortable putting everything I’ve worked for at risk,” said board member Kevin Ross. Board members can be sued individually and as an elected board for their actions.
Kracht stated that the advice of the district’s attorney was to “at minimum” comply with the local Health Department’s guidelines.
“If you want your children to get an education, they have to be in school,” said board member Craig Hunziker. “If this goes on, we’ll have seniors with a freshman education. In my opinion, we have to follow the guidelines.”
After more than two and a half hours of discussion and input, the board approved a motion to require masks in grades K-12, when social distancing of at least six feet was impossible. The measure passed by a 5-2 margin.
The board also voted to designate staff as “essential workers”, allowing them not to be quarantined in the event of a close contact, unless they show symptoms or test positive. They would still quarantine outside of school.
As students return to class this week, social distancing will be maximized.
“A great majority can be kept three feet apart,” said Kracht.
“Most High School classes can social distance,” said Principal Jason Harper.
For families not comfortable with a returning to the classroom, the board voted to offer online learning at the request of the parents.
“It will be a few days until it is ready,” said Kracht. “We didn’t have a plan for it this year because it didn’t work well last year.”
Parents should contact their school if they are interested in that option.
The policy will be reviewed at the next board meeting.