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A full-class quarantine will not change the way Chase County Schools handle masks in the classroom. But other things related to COVID-19 will change.

“We’re going to look at starting to do some remote learning again,” Superintendent Glenna Grinstead said Thursday. Later in the day, she emphasized that the remote classes would be only for students who were previously in quarantine.

Grinstead briefed teachers on COVID-19 protocol changes Thursday morning, following a lengthy discussion with the school board and visitors at a meeting Wednesday night.

In the wake of the pandemic, the Kansas Legislature limited schools to 40 hours of remote learning per year. But Grinstead says there’s a legal way around that.

“The board has the ability to exempt students from that, as necessary,” she said. Board members must judge that based on specific criteria, which she noted would be only formerly-quarantined students. Parents do not have to apply for an exemption.

“If the parent chooses to remote-in, then we will start the process,” Grinstead said. “We have to track how many hours they remote-in.”

Remote learning is different from virtual learning, which Grinstead described as being completely computer-driven outside class. She said two full-time and two part-time Chase County students are in virtual learning right now through Greenbush Virtual Academy in Douglas County.

But Grinstead sees no need to change the Chase County Schools mask policy. Right now they are recommended for students, but not required.

When it comes to COVID-19 checks, Grinstead will move toward what she calls a “test to stay and learn or play” policy. In other U.S. districts, that means a regimen of regular rapid virus tests for formerly quarantined students. In Chase County, that will mean the hiring of a second nurse by the district.

“If you’re testing students to stay to learn and play, it’s going to take some time,” Grinstead said. She said the one school nurse in the district is “running pretty ragged.” So advertising for the second position began Wednesday.

Chase County already has begun what Grinstead describes as a “test to know” strategy. Students and school staff who want to know if they’re infected can be tested, thanks to a grant from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Grinstead said the school board took no vote on the changes in protocol Wednesday night. But several parents and one high school student offered opinions about it.

“We had an honest conversation,” the superintendent said. “There were differing opinions, but we respected that.”

While a 10-day quarantine for practically the entire fifth-grade class at Chase County Elementary ended in early October, Grinstead said some students in all grades “are going in and out” of quarantine. Some have been exposed to COVID-19 twice, possibly at school or at home.

“When I say second exposure, that means they were in close contact with another person,” Grinstead explained. “Mom and Dad have COVID, or they were around their aunt who had COVID.”

As of Thursday, Chase County had 338 confirmed cases of COVID-19. But a state database indicated last week that only two of those cases involve students. An estimated 39 students have vaccinations.

Like many parents, Grinstead is frustrated by the pandemic’s effects on education. For one thing, she thinks the legislature handcuffed her in how she can respond – especially with the 40-hour remote learning limit, as possible second exposures emerge.

“You could have a student [quarantined] for 20 days or more,” Grinstead said. “If you can’t educate them with the instruction in the classroom, they’re losing instruction.”

But the pain is deeper than that for Grinstead, because she’d rather focus on academic testing than medical testing.

“We want to educate students. But this pandemic has put us in positions that we’re honestly a little overwhelmed by,” she said.

Bus bought

In other business, the school board voted to buy a new activity bus for $88,870. It was a case of buy now or pay more later.

“The prices for buses are locked in for six months at a time,” Grinstead said. “The new pricing will take effect November 1, and they’re projecting a 15-percent increase.”

Chase County is able to obtain grant money to buy standard yellow school buses for daily routes. But Grinstead said that was not available for the activity bus, which is used for sports teams and field trips.

This article originally ran on emporiagazette.com.

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