Increase in COVID cases has MCSD worried

By: 
Staff report

     After a couple of weeks of positive news stemming from COVID numbers, the latest news from the Monticello School District is a bit disparaging.

     “The numbers from Jones County Public Health are still very concerning,” reported Superintendent Brian Jaeger in his weekly e-mail.

     The 14-day positivity rate in Jones County is 8.4 percent. However, the Monticello positivity rate is worse: 13 percent.

     “The number of cases in Monticello are rising and the chance that someone in your social circle is positive is higher than ever before,” Jaeger explained. “That is dangerous and if it goes unchecked our numbers will certainly get worse if we do not take this seriously.”

     Anytime the MCSD experiences a COVID-19 exposure, whether a student or staff member, the building team meets. They look at each situation to determine exposure in the classroom, at lunch, during recess, on the bus, extra curricular activities, etc. JCPH is contacted noting the factors in play to determine whether students and staff are quarantined or isolated, and for what period of time. The building team takes over the job of making contact tracing phone calls and sending out correspondence to families.

     “As we move into the late fall season we will begin to see students with symptoms similar to COVID-19 symptoms,” noted Jaeger. “Err on the side of caution for this school year and keep your child home when they do not feel well.”

     Seventy-eight percent of the MCSD students are showing up at school each week for in-person learning. Approximately 221 PreK-12 students are doing full online and hybrid learning. That amounts to 22 percent of the student population.

     “The number has dropped slightly this week,” Jaeger said.

     There are 21 people currently in isolation; 53 under quarantine. That’s about 7 percent of the student body.

     “This number is also down from last week,” added Jaeger.

     During the Monticello School Board’s Oct. 14 board meeting, the district’s Return to Learn plan was discussed. School administrators spend much of their time, including weekends, conducting contact tracing. High School Principal Joan Young said there are a lot more cases in the high school than in the other buildings because the students are more mobile outside of the school day. Some of the cases, she said, have been the result of students taking part in activities not associated with the school.

     “And they’re not social distancing,” Young said.

     Elementary Principal Denny Folken said that during the school day, secondary schools are more likely to be able to avoid quarantining since the students attend different classes from one another, whereas elementary students are usually with the same group of classmates for most of the day.

     Middle School Principal Todd Werner said the new state COVID-19 guidelines, wherein quarantining is not necessary if the student in question has been masked, have helped.

     “The protocols have done what we hoped they would do,” Werner said.

     There was also discussion on how the district’s plan of some brick-and-mortar, some online only, and some using a hybrid formula, might be tweaked.

     Jaeger said that while each of the plans has flaws, this concept gives parents and students the “option to feel safe.”

     “No matter what we pick, it’s going to be a struggle,” added Curriculum Director Robyn Ponder.

     Associate Editor Pete Temple also contributed to this article.

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