MONTICELLO – A combination of recent COVID-19 cases and their close contacts has raised the number of distance learners to around 30 percent this week in the Monticello school district.
Superintendent Vic Zimmerman told the school board at a special meeting this week that the district continues to plan to keep school buildings open, but that they are ready to move to a completely remote platform if necessary.
"We will continue to monitor our numbers," said Zimmerman, who was encouraged that the district had no new cases on Wednesday. "If we see an increase in the next few days, we would consider doing a full remote plan, possibly starting next week."
He said the school district had recorded 13 cases since Oct. 30, which resulted in these people plus 222 of their close contacts being asked to quarantine at home for two weeks.
Almost all positive tests come from outside the school district, according to Zimmerman.
"You've probably heard by now that there were some events around Halloween weekend that resulted in a number of adults with COVID-positive results. When mom and dad are positive, the kids are closely related," Zimmerman said .
"So these are not close contacts with the school, but close contacts with the family," he added, noting that the students are exempt from school for another two weeks.
"We didn't really see it spread around school," Zimmerman said.
He said administrators are concerned about the strain on staff as cases continue to pile up and add more distant learners.
The high school principal Adam Clapp agreed, saying that the school can study either in person or online, but that it is difficult to be top-notch in both areas in a hybrid atmosphere.
“We can do a teaching mode very well. We know how to do it very well personally. When we went to the remote we did it really, really well. I would say we are good when we do both at the same time. I would say it's difficult to do both great at the same time, ”said Clapp.
Emily Weidner, director of White Heath, told the board that another challenge is "just going in and out" trying to figure out which students are in person and which are away on a given day.
Much of the initial contact tracing is currently carried out by school staff. Zimmerman says this makes sense because the district has contact information on hand for students, staff, and families.
He also said the local health department was overwhelmed with 78 cases at the time due to the increase in cases in Piatt and DeWitt counties, which recorded 124 new cases in the two counties area between Nov. 6 and 9 be in Piatt County.
Clapp said tracking begins by consulting a seating plan, then moves to group work that may have brought a positive case into close contact with others, and then goes back two days before symptoms appear or a positive test is known and a similar one Process going through.
Zimmerman was asked if there was a case number threshold that the school would bring to all distant classes. He replied that it all comes down to the spread of the virus, the burden on parents of the remote control, and the burden on staff as both platforms need to be housed.
"When you think about all three variables, we are certainly trying to weight what is in the best interests of all three and ultimately in the best interests of the students," he said.
Steve Hoffman is the editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican of the Community Media Group. More information is available at journal-republican.com.