CONFUSION REIGNS AS SCHOOLS ATTEMPT TO REOPEN AMID PANDEMIC
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