ELK HORN — Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton School District officials announced on Thursday that six individuals in the district had been quarantined due to COVID-19 — but have not tested positive — and have plans in place in the event the district sees a 10 percent or higher absentee rate, due to infection.
District officials released a letter to parents on Sept. 3, talking about plans the school board voted to approve during a special meeting earlier this week, for moving to hybrid learning in case of an outbreak. A second letter, released shortly after, explained that six individuals in the district had been identified as being exposed to COVID-19, resulting in being quarantined for 14 days. Superintendent Trevor Miller said the six were being quarantined for now, but as of about noon on Friday, none had tested positive for COVID-19.
Miller said the state of Iowa requires a 15 percent positive rate at the county level before a district can even apply to the State Department of Education for a waiver to go to full time remote learning — and the district must also have a 10 percent absentee level in the district.
However, Miller said the district didn’t have to apply for a waiver in order to go to their hybrid plan — with onsite and remote learning included — but would use the 10 percent absentee rate to determine when to go to the hybrid plan.
The 10 percent figure could be across the entire district, by building or by grade level, Miller said. The high school building currently has about 210 students, with about 115 of those in grades 9-12, he said. The elementary building has about 160 students.
If the Elk Horn high school building had a 10 percent absentee level, but the Exira elementary building did not, the district could have just those students in the Elk Horn building go to the hybrid option. Since high school students tend to move around more from classroom to classroom during the day, he thought it might be more likely that the 10 percent could involve all the high school students. In lower grade levels students are kept more in the same cohort — so a single grade level might possibly be affected that way, while others were not, and then just the affected grade might go to hybrid.
“Our administrative team and nurses have done an amazing job of reaching out to Local Public Health with contact tracing and have notified the individuals we know who have been exposed and are using the 14 days quarantine guidance from Public Health for exposure,” officials said in the letter, adding, “We are constantly in communication with public health and are following their guidance.The Public Health Department is in charge of communication with individuals who may have had contact tracing. This is (being) within 6 feet for over 15 consecutive minutes. As cases continue to increase throughout the state, please remember to use social distancing, wear masks, and use hand sanitizer. Thank you for your understanding and (for) flexibility during this unprecedented time as we work to keep our students and staff safe.”
While the district doesn’t have any current COVID-19 cases, Miller said that could all change, with the holiday coming up, if individuals didn’t remember to use masks and practice social distancing, possibly spurring an outbreak in the future.
The district approved continuing having Wednesdays as distance learning days during the special meeting and an updated plan for hybrid learning if the school reaches 10 percent absenteeism due to COVID-related illnesses. The plan would be used for 14 days, and then absenteeism would be re-evaluated to determine if the plan needed to continue, or not.
The numbers can be confusing when it comes down to those percentages related to distance learning and absenteeism.