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Greenfield student tests positive for COVID-19 after attending first day of class

A Greenfield Central Junior High School student has tested positive for the coronavirus after the first day of class, according to an email sent to families Thursday evening. 

The student attended part of the first day of classes, which began Thursday for Greenfield-Central Community Schools. It was the first time students had been back in the school buildings since the coronavirus closed schools statewide in March. 

A water tower in Greenfield, Saturday, May 9, 2020.

The district told families that its "Positive COVID-19 Test Protocol" was enacted as soon the school was alerted by the Hancock County Health Department about the positive test. The student was immediately isolated and all close contacts were determined. 

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Hancock County Health Department Officer Sandra Aspy said in an emailed statement the department was notified of the student's positive test on Thursday. The department then "immediately" contacted the school. 

According to the Indiana State Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard, Hancock County has reported 597 total cases of the novel coronavirus and 37 deaths as of Friday.

The school's response 

Families of students considered a close contact — someone who spent more than 15 minutes within six feet of an infected person — were contacted Thursday night, the district said. 

Superintendent Harold Olin declined to say how many students were identified as close contacts. He said district nurses and the administration helped identify those people.

"Because we are able to narrow this list, there is no reason to disrupt the educational process for the larger group that is served within the school," Olin said in an email. 

Olin did not know whether the student had symptoms. It is possible for the coronavirus to be spread even by those who are not showing symptoms. 

Aspy, the health officer, said she would not release any "personally identifiable information" about the infected student or the student's close contacts.The health department declined to tell IndyStar whether the student had symptoms, when the test was administered or how many close contacts were identified. 

The district said that all areas of all schools are disinfected every night after school and special attention was given to classrooms in which the infected student was present. 

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A person who tests positive must isolate at home for 10 days, according to the district's reopening plan. For those with symptoms, they must be fever-free without medication for 72 hours before returning to school, in addition to quarantining for 10 days. 

Olin said the district does not intend "to deviate from the plan at this time, though we are certainly willing to do that if our health department identifies more appropriate protocols and procedures for us to institute." 

What the school's policy says

It's unclear when the student was tested, but getting results typically takes days, indicating the student was tested prior to the first day of school. 

The Indiana Department of Education's guidance to school districts says if students or staff have "someone in their home being tested for COVID-19," the district can exclude that person from school and recommend they quarantine for 14 days. 

Aspy said anyone awaiting results should remain in isolation until results are received.

But the Greenfield district's plan for reopening schools does not offer specific guidance on what students or staff should do if they have a pending test. 

Families of students at Greenfield Central Junior High School were notified on the evening of July 30 that a student tested positive for the coronavirus after attending the first day of classes. The student went to school before receiving the results of the test.

What happens now: The plan after a case is reported

The plan says students and staff should stay home if sick and notify the school if they exhibit symptoms related to the novel coronavirus

The plan also says that anyone who has close contact with a confirmed positive case must quarantine for 14 days before returning to school, regardless of whether they have symptoms. 

Indiana's public schools are among the first in the country to start their academic years after the pandemic interrupted education nationwide in the spring. Debate continues about whether it is appropriate or safe to bring students back into schools for in-person instruction as the pandemic continues.

Parents weigh in

At the end of the school day Friday, the families of the middle school students waited in their cars to pick students up.

Some expressed frustration with the family of the student who tested positive for COVID-19, saying it was irresponsible for the student to go to school without waiting for results of the test.

“I think it’s kind of selfish of the parents of the student," Samantha Kiefer, whose daughter is in eighth grade at the school, said, "sending their kids to school or kid to school knowing that they may or may not have it."

Sherry Root, the grandmother of an eighth and 11th grader, expects to see the overall number of cornavirus cases increase now that classes are back in session.  

“Maybe we came back a little early,” Root said, "but I think the school is going to handle it in the best way they know how."

Laura Taylor, who was picking up her 7th grader, said the school is doing the best it can to keep students safe. However, virtual learning seems like an inevitable outcome, especially since it took just one day for a confirmed case at the middle school and other districts are already online.

“What needs to happen before we shut down?” she asked. 

Some area schools, including Indianapolis Public Schools and several of Marion County's township districts, have decided to restart the year virtually. 

IndyStar reporter Holly Hays and Pulliam Fellow Lydia Gerike contributed.

Contact IndyStar reporter Elizabeth DePompei at 317-444-6196 or edepompei@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @edepompei.

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.