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Students at Indiana school back on campus after classmate sent home with positive Covid-19 test

The family of an Indiana student who learned of a positive Covid-19 test on the first day of school sent the child to classes knowing the result of the test was pending, the school superintendent said Monday.

As students return to the campus just outside Indianapolis, some teachers are anxious, Superintendent Harold Olin of Greenfield-Central Community School Corp. said, but there were no new cases Monday and the school district has followed protocols to make the school safe for students and faculty.

“Not exactly the start we were looking for in that specific school,” he said. “We will continue to control the variables we can control. We need families to control the variable they can control, which is the self-screening piece.”

Student had test days before school began

The news came as educators across the nation debated — and differed significantly — on whether it’s safe for kids to return to school amid a pandemic. Greenfield-Central Junior High School kicked off the school year Thursday.

That afternoon, the Hancock County Health Department notified the district that a student there had tested positive for Covid-19, Olin wrote in a letter to parents.

As part of the district’s protocols for the virus, officials isolated the student in the school clinic and reviewed the student’s schedule, modes of transportation and extracurricular activities to determine with whom the youngster had come in contact, according to Olin’s letter.

“We obviously were a little disappointed when we received a phone call from the health department telling us one of our students had tested positive,” the superintendent told CNN on Monday. “The student had tested a few days before. The family had not waited to get the results, and the student came to school.”

The school is already professionally disinfected each evening, in accordance with the school district’s plan to return to in-person learning, but special attention was paid to areas and classrooms the infected student visited, Olin told parents.

“We understand that this information will cause concern for some of you. It was very evident today that nearly all of our families and students were prepared to properly follow the safety protocols we have established,” Olin wrote.

‘That does create additional anxiety’

Officials examined seating charts, and students who had been within 6 feet of their infected classmate for more than 15 minutes won’t be allowed to return to school, Olin told CNN. Their families received phone calls informing them their children must stay out of school for 14 days, he said.

Olin added guidance that students should not come to class if they’re awaiting the result of a Covid-19 test.

Students, families and staff were asked to self-screen for Covid-19 symptoms, he said, and school officials also spoke with the infected student’s family about putting others at risk, he said.

“That does create additional anxiety for some of our teachers who are kind of on the fence about being back anyway, and we’re certainly trying to work through a few of those,” Olin told CNN.

The staff is disappointed, he said, but “rolling with it very well,” and none of the school’s staff members appear to have had close contact with the student.

Olin, whose wife is an educator and whose daughter is in high school, said there are risks in life, whether driving to school or going to the mall, and the student’s diagnosis doesn’t lead him to believe returning to school was a bad idea.

“I do believe that schooling on site is our best option in America in terms of the best quality education that we can deliver,” he said.

While most parents in the district have indicated they want their kids on campus with their teachers, about 15% of families have opted for virtual learning, and the district is accommodating both preferences, Olin said, leaving open the possibility families could shift between the two camps.

Other Indiana cases

Greenfield-Central Junior High isn’t the only school in the state, or the county, to navigate a positive coronavirus test so early in the school year.

In the southern portion of the county, a football player at New Palestine High School tested positive last week. The high school followed sanitation and contact tracing protocols, canceled Friday’s football practice and planned to proceed with classes Monday, said Wes Anderson, spokesman for the Community School Corp. of Southern Hancock County.

Another football player — at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, where classes are slated to begin Thursday — tested positive, spurring the Metropolitan School District of Warren Township to direct anyone who had close contact with the player to quarantine for 14 days, district spokesman Dennis Jarrett said.

About an hour’s drive north of Indianapolis, in Elwood, staff members at Elwood Junior-Senior High School came into contact with an infected staff member, spurring school officials to move classes online this week while custodians disinfect the building, Elwood Community School Corp. Superintendent Joe Brown said. No students came in contact with the staffer, he said.

In the Indianapolis suburb of Avon, a staff member at Avon High School, which reopened Wednesday, tested positive but had no contact with students or other staff members, Avon Community School Corp. spokeswoman Stacey Forcey-Moore said.

Indiana has almost 68,000 cases, roughly 3,000 of them deadly, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The numbers put the state in the middle of the pack for coronavirus infections (Vermont has fewer than 1,500 cases; California has more than a half million).

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