One of the first school districts in the to reopen its doors during the pandemic did not even make it a day before a call came from the county health department — a student who had walked the halls and sat in various classrooms had tested positive
One of the first school districts in the country to reopen its doors during the coronavirus pandemic did not even make it a day before being forced to grapple with the issue facing every system actively trying to get students into classrooms: What happens when someone comes to school infected?
Just hours into the first day of classes on Thursday, a call from the county health department notified Greenfield Central Junior High School in Indiana that a student who had walked the halls and sat in various classrooms had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Administrators began an emergency protocol, isolating the student and ordering everyone who had come into close contact with the person, including other students, to quarantine for 14 days. It is unclear whether the student infected anyone else.
“We knew it was a when, not if,” said Harold E. Olin, superintendent of the Greenfield-Central Community School Corporation, but were “very shocked it was on Day 1.”
To avoid the same scenario, hundreds of districts across the country that were once planning to reopen their classrooms, many on a part-time basis, have reversed course in recent weeks as infections have spiked in many states.
Those that do still reopen are having to prepare for the near-certain likelihood of quarantines and abrupt shutdowns when students and staff members test positive.
Of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, all but six have announced they will start remotely, although some in places like Florida and Texas are hoping to open classrooms after a few weeks if infection rates go down, over strong objections from teachers’ unions.
More than 80 percent of California residents live in counties where test positivity rates and hospitalizations are too high for school buildings to open under state rules issued last month. And schools in Alexandria, Va., said on Friday that they would teach remotely, tipping the entire Washington-Baltimore metro area, with more than one million children, into virtual learning for the fall.
In March, when schools across America abruptly shuttered, it seemed unimaginable that educators and students would not return to school come fall, as they have in many other parts of the world. Now, with the virus continuing to rage, tens of millions of students will start the year remotely, and it has become increasingly clear that only a small percentage of children are likely to see the inside of a school building before the year ends.
“There’s no good answer,” Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District near Houston, told trustees at a recent special meeting in which they voted to postpone the district’s hybrid reopening until September. “If there was a good answer, if there were an easy answer,” he said, “we would lay it out for you and everybody would be happy.”
Anywhere that schools do reopen — outside of a portion of the Northeast where the virus is largely under control — is likely to see positive test results quickly, as in Indiana.