Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION / WORLD -

Fright­en­ing calls from the school nurse. Wait­ing in vain for word from school of­fi­cials. Canceled sports prac­tices. March­ing bands in quar­an­tine.

For count­less fam­i­lies across the coun­try, the school year is open­ing in dis­ar­ray and con­fu­sion, with coro­n­avirus out­breaks trig­ger­ing sud­den clos­ings, mass quar­an­tines and deep anx­i­ety among par­ents.

Schools in at least 10 states have had stu­dents and staff test pos­i­tive for the virus since they be­gan open­ing. The out­breaks have oc­curred in a va­ri­ety of school set­tings: march­ing bands, high school foot­ball teams, el­e­men­tary class­rooms, high schools.

A Colorado high school shut down for two weeks af­ter two stu­dents tested pos­i­tive. Foot­ball teams in Utah canceled prac­tices and games af­ter sev­eral play­ers came down with the virus. The en­tire foot­ball team and march­ing band in a small Alabama town were placed un­der quar­an­tine be­cause of ex­po­sure to the virus, the sec­ond time the team had to be quar­an­tined this sum­mer.

Michi­gan is re­port­ing 14 out­breaks at schools. Mis­sis­sippi started the week with about 2,000 stu­dents and 600 teach­ers in quar­an­tine; the state has had 245 cases of coro­n­avirus in teach­ers and about 200 in stu­dents since dis­tricts be­gan re­turn­ing to school in late July.

Joel Barnes got the call from the school nurse on Aug. 6: His 14-year-old son had been ex­posed to COVID-19 by a class­mate at their high school in Corinth, Mis­sis­sippi.

By that time, Barnes and his wife had heard through the grapevine — mainly Face­book — that at least six peo­ple at the school had tested pos­i­tive and more than 100 stu­dents were be­ing told to quar­an­tine. The district posted the in­for­ma­tion on Face­book but never fol­lowed up with per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Barnes said.

He and his wife de­cided to keep their son, a fresh­man, home to learn on­line even though he tested neg­a­tive for the coro­n­avirus. “It’s not as dif­fi­cult as wor­ry­ing about him be­ing ex­posed to COVID again,” Barnes said.

He says he’s grate­ful the district re­leased some lim­ited in­for­ma­tion, but he’s frus­trated there wasn’t more — and that the state at­tor­ney gen­eral said schools were not re­quired to in­form par­ents of out­breaks.

“I do un­der­stand that there are state and fed­eral laws gov­ern­ing what you can say about stu­dents,” said Barnes, “but you’re not giv­ing out names, you’re just giv­ing out num­bers.”

“This is a na­tional pub­lic health cri­sis,” he said. On top of that, he added, “I have sig­nif­i­cant health is­sues, and it would not be good for me to be around some­one who has it or to get it my­self.”

Stu­dents ar­rive at Dal­las El­e­men­tary School for the first day of school Aug. 3 amid the coro­n­avirus out­break in Dal­las, Ge­or­gia. AP FILE PHOTO

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