Scottsbluff Public Schools reaffirmed its commitment Friday to keep teaching in-person.
The announcement, made in a news release, comes on the heels of an extended Thanksgiving break, meant to reduce spread inside the school district’s buildings.
“All activities, including sports, are canceled during this week to minimize potential spread. We ask that everyone takes precautions over the holiday so as to help mitigate the spread that we are now facing in our community. Small sacrifices now will help us avoid bigger ones later,” the news release said.
“If our participants come back and the holiday creates a spike within any of the teams or groups, the potential of a full season may be lost,” the news release said. “If students go elsewhere and play pickup games or train together, for example, they will be undoing everything we hope to accomplish.”
Cases have grown dramatically at Scottsbluff Public Schools over the last two months, largely due to community spread, according to health officials. Nearly 300 students and staff have come down with COVID-19 since the start of the semester, according to the district’s dashboard.
However, quarantines relating to exposure to the virus have seriously hampered SBPS’s ranks, according to Superintendent Rick Myles. According to the dashboard, over 1,443 quarantines have occurred this semester. However, the number of people that quarantined more than once is unclear. For context, SBPS serves about 3,400 students with about 200 teachers across its buildings and programs.
“Our classrooms have been heavily impacted by hundreds of student quarantines and infections,” the news release said. “As many as 40 teachers are out in a given day, and scores of counselors, paraprofessionals, custodians, secretaries and administrators all out at any given time.”
Before the semester’s start, the district had planned to move back online if the spread reached its current level. However, school officials reversed course over the year.
“While the initial 'Return to School Plan' continues to provide important guidance, the Districts’ commitment is now predicated by a priority of keeping school in session,” the news release said. “This will be maintained as long as the health and safety of students and staff, parental support, and our ability to staff our buildings are all preserved despite the growing quarantines, isolations, and infections.”
The district also concluded a survey this week regarding COVID-19 and said the results will be released to parents and the public after Thanksgiving.
During the Thanksgiving shutdown, or restart as it was referred to in the news release, the district will also meet with teachers and staff to discuss how to move forward as the pandemic’s impact deepens.
“Any of us can do all the right things and still get sick — still get sick and even die,” the news release said. “This is clearly nobody’s fault and is a horrible tragedy. In many ways we are helpless — both individually and collectively. But, we can at least try to make a difference for ourselves and others, if we are smart.”
The news releases gave the example that sports were atop the list of biggest vulnerabilities to virus transmission.
“By their nature, mask-wearing is intermittent and not practiced during times of physical exertion and heavy breathing. This is also the time that medical experts tell us that spread is most likely,” the news release said.
The district said that winter sports would be “much more likely” if athletes and coaches keep from spreading the virus or becoming close contacts while not in school.
“The more they all attend to strict guidelines and others help them do so, the greater the chance that these kids will be able to enjoy the tremendous benefits sports has to offer,” the news release said.
A similar process and statements were made about music programs occurring over the coming months.
The district also acknowledged the polarizing effect that the virus — and subsequent shutdown decisions — have had on the community.
“Many feel it is necessary to continue these activities for the sake of kids who participate,” the news release said. “Many feel they should be stopped because exposure within these higher aerobic and/or close contact activities potentially endangers others... In reality, both perspectives are correct. And we are seeking to walk a very fine line between them.”
The news release added that other staff and students need to be careful as well. It said that activity-related exposure is dwarfed in comparison to the number of students and staff who are quarantined or testing positive or sick.
“Nine days out of the classroom is an opportunity for everyone to hit the reset button. But we need your support. Please help our kids make good decisions that will give us the best chance of keeping everyone safe, active, and in school,” the release said.
After Thanksgiving break, three weeks of instruction remain in the fall 2020 semester.