School board reflects on first two weeks

Meghan Flynn
Garden City High School freshmen make their way through the line in the cafeteria during one of the lunch periods on Sept. 1, the first full day of school.

The 2020-21 school year has now been in session for two weeks, and the USD 457 Board of Education heard a report on how school has gone in that time period in relation to the district’s COVID-19 Response Plan at the board’s regular meeting Monday.

Assistant superintendent of student services Glenda LaBarbera said that in the first week of school, Aug. 31 to Sept. 4, 60 students were sent home with coronavirus symptoms.

“They came to school, went through our screening process, the teachers and the nurses caught them and we sent them home because of their symptoms,” she said. “The screening process does seem to really be working and helping. They are catching those kids and getting them sent home.”

At the end of Week 1, one staff member at the high school tested positive for the virus and caused the district to turn the seven periods that teacher taught yellow.

Public information coordinator Roy Cessna said that when a classroom or period is turned yellow for 14 days, based on the Response Plan, and the principals and parents of students in those classrooms are alerted to the fact that there has been a positive coronavirus case in the classroom.

Additionally, there is a heightened alert, so the students and staff that have been in contact with the positive case are monitored closely in the event more people exhibit symptoms.

In Week 2, 70 students were sent home with symptoms, and every day of that week classrooms were turned yellow.

This happened at Garfield Early Childhood Center, Georgia Matthews Elementary School, Charles O. Stones Intermediate School, Abe Hubert Elementary and Garden City High School.

The district began the school year at a Level 3 and moved to Level 4 in the response plan on Tuesday.

Despite the positive cases and the increase in levels, LaBarbera believes the first two weeks went well.

“Honestly I think the switch to Level 4, which is going to happen throughout the school year, we're going to go to 4 then maybe to 5 and then maybe back down to 3, those changes are going to be probably rocky off and on,” she said.

District superintendent Steve Karlin agreed.

“These steps were designed so that we can have school as normally as possible,” he said. “We're all hopeful that one day soon, once we can see that we have been able to manage this and this is working and that we're able to keep kids face-to-face and we're able to keep people safe, that hopefully we can look at what kind of restrictions can we relax. But until we've got enough data here to really be able to look at this (we can’t).”

Mask compliance during the first two weeks has been fantastic, LaBarbera said. While everyone anticipated that there would be discipline issues with students not wearing masks or refusing to put it on, there hasn’t been.

“The kids are coming to school, they're wearing their masks and putting them on, they're taking the breaks when they're supposed to,” she said. “They're asking when they need a break, so all of our classrooms have asked to be flexible so the child if they need to take a break (they can).”

LaBarbera said they were even complimented by the Finney County Health Department on the compliance at the high school.

“Because the mask compliance was so good that they did not quarantine any other students as close contacts because they were following the protocol that they were supposed to in a classroom,” she said. "We're keeping kids in school instead of quarantining them.“