Pott. County schools monitor COVID-19 cases, safety

Elisabeth Slay
The Shawnee News-Star
Shawnee students.

Since schools throughout Pottawatomie County began their fall semesters in August, various students and employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and districts continue to manage social distancing and other safety measures.

According to Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. April Grace, the district has, on average, two to three positive cases a week, but the total number of positive cases since the beginning of school for those physically present is less than one percent. 

Grace said SPS doesn’t send out general statements district wide for every positive case to protect the privacy of staff and students and to help reduce any unnecessary stress and anxiety.

“Individual HIPAA and privacy considerations should not be dismissed during this time,” Grace said. “We communicate with those who are directly impacted and deemed to have had close contact with a known positive case of COVID-19 based on health department guidelines and contact tracing.”

The administrator said SPS continues to work closely with the Pottawatomie Health Department and follows recommended guidelines for COVID related items such as qurantining. 

“The health department determines who should quarantine, and we assist them in this process,” Grace said. “They have jurisdiction over quarantine. We do not make those decisions independently. Each week we seek their counsel, and I visit directly with those officials at the county and regional levels.” 

Grace said while the district doesn’t send out general notifications for each positive COVID-19 case, she does send out a broad weekly update to staff members informing them of any changes or new guidelines that need to be followed regarding COVID.

She said the greatest challenge the district currently faces is the amount of students, and particularly staff members, needing to be quarantined due to exposure of a positive case. 

“The quarantines that affect staff create stress and strain for everyone, as administrators work to get classes covered, which sometimes means having to combine or add students into rooms, which makes social distancing more difficult and also creates additional stress for staff,” Grace said.

Overall, the administrator said while she’s grateful the district has a low positive case rate, students, teachers and staff continue to struggle daily with the difficulties of the pandemic.

“Without question these continue to be challenging times to navigate,” Grace said. “Our staff has been incredible in working through challenges each and every day (and) week, and the complexities do not seem to lessen.” 

Similar to Shawnee, Tecumseh Public Schools also continues to monitor the pandemic and work with the health department, however the district sends out notifications informing the community each time it’s made aware of positive cases. 

According to notifications from Superintendent Tom Wilsie, as of Tuesday, Oct. 13, there have been about 21 positive COVID-19 cases since the school year began.

In each scenario, Wilsie notified the community and ensured any student or employee testing positive was quarantined and followed CDC and local health official guidelines.

In his notifications, Wilsie said the district has been sure to notify those who may have come in contact or been exposed to people who tested positive for the virus. 

Along with Tecumseh, the McLoud Public Schools district has released around 11 notifications via social media informing parents and the community about positive COVID-19 cases.

In each notification, Executive Director of Administrators, Rhonda Hockenbury, said the McLoud district followed CDC and local health official guidelines including contact tracing, quarantining those who tested positive and those exposed, maintaining social distancing and other safety measures.

According to the Bethel Public Schools’ COVID-19 update webpage, the district has had a total of 11 cases since the school year began. 

In addition to Bethel, Dale Public Schools has released information regarding positive COVID-19 cases and so far has reported one via social media since the school year started. 

All districts have explained in their notifications regarding COVID-19 through contact tracing, those at risk of exposure will be notified and if a student or parent isn’t notified they are not considered to be at risk. 

In addition, all districts have informed their communities that they will continue social distancing and other safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus to the best of their abilities. 

Check back for updates.