Northeast R-IV suspends elementary classes until Sept. 9 due to COVID-19

Erik Cliburn
The Northeast Randolph County R-IV School District suspended in-person classes for elementary students starting Wednesday afternoon until Sept. 9 after a school staff member tested positive for COVID-19. The school year started Aug. 13.

In-person classes for elementary-aged students in Northeast Randolph County R-IV School District in Cairo are suspended until Sept. 9 after a school staff member tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, Superintendent Darren Rapert said.

The district announced the temporary switch to virtual classes Wednesday afternoon.

Initially, the change affected all students, but after speaking with the Randolph County Health Department, the district will resume in-person classes Monday for middle and high school students, Rapert said.

“After we did some more research, and got some more information from our contact tracing, we are able to bring back middle school and high school [students],” he said.

Elementary students will use the web-based Seesaw program to interact with teachers until Sept. 9 in order to effectively quarantine any potential COVID-19 cases. Teachers are required to come to school from 8 a.m. to noon on school days to teach from their classrooms.

The district already had established guidelines to follow in case of a COVID-19 outbreak, which allows for students to more easily transition to online learning, Rapert said.

“It’s been a smooth transition, because we’ve been planning on it anyway,” he said. “It’s just such a fluid situation and you’ve got to be able to make adjustments at anytime. It’s just unprecedented.”

The target return date of Sept. 9 should provide enough time for students and their families to quarantine and limit the spread of the virus, Randolph County Health Department Administrator Sharon Whisenand said.

“It’s a reasonable amount of time, but we’ll just have to keep watching it,” she said. “If anyone else comes up positive we’ll have to re-evaluate.”

The case that sparked the switch to virtual classes initially was a false negative. Negative results came back when the staff member was tested over the weekend, but was informed Wednesday the test was incorrect and they were positive for COVID-19, Rapert said.

“We had to go back to last Thursday and do contact tracing,” he said. “So we’ve had about 107 kids in quarantine.”

The district has confirmed two cases, so far, among staff and students since the semester began Aug. 13. There also were several positive cases among parents, Rapert said. Both the district and the health department recommended the transition to virtual learning after several students were missing school due to COVID-19, either through family members having the virus or themselves, Whisenand said.

“Once it got to a point where there were several kids out of school, [we thought] it might be in the best interest to either close down specific classes or, in this case, the elementary classes,” she said.

While in-seat classes are suspended for younger students, the district is offering a lunch pick-up for students between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on school days. Meals will not be delivered, however. Parents can sign-up for their children to receive lunches on the district’s website or Facebook page. Lunches can be picked up each day at the main office entrance at 301 West Martin Street in Cairo.

With most of the county schools starting this week, there is potential for a wider spread of COVID-19, but each school and the health department are going to look at each situation on an individual basis to determine the best course of action, Whisenand said.

“Everything is going to really be on a case-by-case basis, because the circumstances are so different with every case we’ve had,” she said. “The schools are doing a phenomenal job of adapting. There will definitely be some challenges as we get this started, but the more we go on, we’ll work out some of these kinks.”

Whisenand strongly urged anyone who does not feel well to stay home as a way to limit the virus’ potential spread. She also continues to advocate for social distancing, wearing masks when in public and practicing good hygenie.