COVID-19 affects local schools: Green Forest moves to virtual learning for 2 weeks
By Haley Schichtl
Green Forest’s middle school and high school moved to virtual instruction Thursday, Oct. 1, after a large number of students and staff had to be quarantined because of COVID-19 concerns.
The schools are scheduled to return to face-to-face instruction on Thursday, Oct. 15.
Green Forest School District superintendent Matt Summers said he was among four staff members who recently tested positive for the virus. Four high school students also tested positive, Summers said.
“What gets you is the close contacts,” Summers said.
He said that besides the positive cases at the high school, there were several other students and staff who had to be quarantined because of close contact with a positive person, including four teachers, 16 support staff members and 68 students.
The high school volleyball team was placed on quarantine on Thursday, Oct. 1.
“We can’t safely supervise, we can’t transport, we can’t teach because we’re low on subs,” Summers said. “That’s why we made the pivot this time, but each time is an individual situation.”
Summers said school officials decided to start the change on a Thursday so that it is spread out over three weeks. That could help give everyone who may have the virus enough time to have it out of their systems by the time they return to school.
Summers said he was the last person in the district to test positive. Oct. 11 will be two weeks from the time he tested positive.
Summers said students who don’t have internet access at home can come to “learning zones” at each school.
“They can still ride the bus to school and go to the computer lab and do their lessons virtually,” Summers said.
He said there are 13 students at the middle school and 10 at the high school using the learning zones.
Students at the middle and high school campuses can still get free breakfast and lunch by either picking it up at their campus cafeteria or having it delivered on a bus route. To get the food delivered, students can either call the cafeteria or fill out a form on the school district website.
“I think there’s a bit of anxiety, but we’ve had no cases in any other buildings, and no student cases outside the high school,” Summers said. “I appreciate everybody being patient and understanding with us, and we’re doing the very best we can to keep everybody safe and educated.”
The Arkansas Health Department said in a report released Thursday, Oct. 1, that there had been a cumulative total of 37 cases in Green Forest schools — 30 involving students and seven among staff. The report said there were a total of six active cases.
Berryville superintendent Owen Powell said the school district has three staff members who have tested positive and 10 who are under quarantine. He said there are nine students who have tested positive, with 80 students under quarantine.
“Kristy Hulse, our high school nurse, is our contact tracer and she’s doing a phenomenal job, and Mindy Hicks is helping her as well,” Powell said. “If we have a positive case, they pull seating charts and bus seating charts and trace who that student has been around. If they’ve been within six feet of that person for more than 15 total minutes in the last 24 hours, that person has to be quarantined for 14 days.”
Powell said the school district would pivot to virtual learning if it was unable to find substitutes for the staff members who are away from work.
“There’s only so many subs out there. Even in a normal year, subs are hard to find,” he said. “But it’s even more challenging now because many people don’t want to sub because of COVID.”
He said staff and students are doing the best they can to maintain social distance, using hand sanitizer and wearing masks.
On Monday, Powell confirmed that the football coaching staff and “many players” from the high school and junior high football teams have been placed on quarantine because of contact with a positive case. Neither team will play their scheduled games this week.
The ADH report said there have been a cumulative total of 47 cases at Berryville schools, with 34 among students and 13 among staff. The report said there were 10 active cases as of Thursday, Oct. 1.
Eureka Springs superintendent Bryan Pruitt said there were two positive cases in the schools, but no one was in close contact that would require them to be quarantined.
“It’s really scary to talk about, because things can change in an hour,” Pruitt said.
He said the district has been flexible about allowing students to switch between virtual and on-site instruction. He said every situation is handled on an individual basis.
“We have to work through our point of contact with the Department of Education,” he said. “They have us do a survey and figure out what’s the best thing to do for our district and community, then they determine whether yes, you need to pivot, or no, let’s go a different direction.”
He said the district is also looking into ordering more internet hotspots so it can be ready to switch to completely virtually instruction if that need arises.
The health department report lists only educational institutions with five or more active cases. Eureka Springs was not listed on the Oct. 1 report.