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County schools report few COVID-19 infections

Schools have plan to curb virus outbreaks

South Panola school administrators are using a multi-layer reporting system in each of the district’s six schools designed to minimize the chances of a coronavirus outbreak, and keep parents informed about possible exposures in classrooms or on buses.

Reporting required by each school district shows that South Panola schools had the lowest rate of coronavirus transmission among students and staff during the first week of school last week than any other district in the area.

For the week of Aug. 17-21, the district had just three positive cases of COVID-19 among students and two among staff.

Two students at BJHS tested positive and one at SPHS. One staff member each at BIS and BMS had positive tests reported to the district. From those few infections, 19 students were sent home for quarantine for two weeks (10 at BJHS, five at SPHS, and four at Pope School), while staff at BIS (2), BMS (1), BJHS (1), and Pope (1) were told to adhere to quarantine policy.

Only students and staff that meet the definition of close contact with a confirmed positive case are sent to quarantine. That standard is 15 minutes and within six feet of a positive case.

By comparison, one area school district – Lafayette County – this week asked the whole fourth grade to quarantine after several teachers tested positive.

Key to the system put in place by the Board of Trustees on the recommendation of the superintendent and his assistants is communication between all the schools and consistent protocols on each campus.

Asst. Superintendent David Tutor updated the school board of the district’s policy, including procedures for handling employee COVID-19 cases and weekly reporting to the State Department of Health.

Administrators concede that students can’t maintain social distance in every classroom, and on buses, but believe the district’s aggressive cleaning and disinfection process combined with the strict adherence to masks wearing makes school buildings in Batesville and Pope safe as reasonably possible for children.

Teachers are even safer, Tutor said, because they are not required to be in “close contact” with students as defined by the Department of Health – that is being within six feet of a student for 15 minutes or more.

“If our teachers follow the protocols we have put in place, the coaching we have given them, they should not be a close contact while at work,” Tutor said. “We can’t control what goes on outside of work, what happens at home, or the other 16 or 17 hours of the day, but they shouldn’t fall  into the definition of close contact at work if they follow the protocols we’ve set on the distancing and time if you’re inside that six feet.”

For students, the policy begins when the school is notified by parents of a positive case. At that point the school nurse starts a contact tracing procedure that includes phone calls and letters to parents of students whose own child was determined to be in close contact with the positive case.

Parents will be asked to quarantine those students for 14 days, and they will transition immediately to the distance learning process.

“There will be no loss of learning with those students,” Tutor said, noting that district teachers are using the same programs simultaneously for in-class and virtual lessons, making it easy for at-home students to stay up-to-date with classroom activities.

Tutor said every school is using a seating chart for classrooms and buses, and will use those charts to determine which students were close contacts with a reported positive case.

“We know where every child sits all day and who their potential close contacts are,” Tutor told the board. Additionally, school nurses will update a spreadsheet each day that tracks positive cases, close contact students sent home to quarantine, and when those students return to on campus learning status.

Nurses will send out a follow up letter to parents (or guardians) of those students, and will also send letters to parents of all students that are not considered close contact but are in the group or class with the positive cases. These “monitoring” letters will advise parents on key symptoms to watch for in their own children.

For employees, each school will report positive cases to the district office, which will then begin contact tracing procedures to determine which other employees, if any, should be recommended for quarantine based on the close contact standard.

Each Monday at noon nurses from each school are required to submit to the Department of Health a report on student and employee positive cases and close contacts for the previous week.

The state will release a weekly update to the public on the number of positive cases and close contacts by county. The statistics will reflect the aggregate numbers from North Panola and South Panola districts, along with North Delta School. The report will not be broken down by district, or individual schools.

There had been no reported positive cases at North Delta School as of Tuesday at noon. All North Panola School District students are using distance learning for instruction this semester.