Greenfield Central Junior High students head for their buses after school on Friday, a day after a student there was found to be infected with the novel coronavirus. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
Greenfield Central Junior High students head for their buses after school on Friday, a day after a student there was found to be infected with the novel coronavirus. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)
GREENFIELD — The remote-learning cohort at the city’s junior high school grew slightly Friday, July 31, in response to a student testing positive for COVID-19.

The Hancock County Health Department said in a news release Friday that it had been notified on Thursday, July 30, of a positive COVID-19 test result for a student who had been present that day at Greenfield-Central Junior High School.

Harold Olin, superintendent of Greenfield-Central schools, said the student was tested before Thursday — the first day of school — although he did not know how long before.

In response to the test result, the county health department and school corporation launched the COVID-19 response plan they created over the summer, according to the news release. The response made for some anxious hours among parents waiting for the contact tracing to be completed.

Olin first sent an email to junior high school parents Thursday informing them of the situation. The email said the response plan called for immediately isolating the student in the junior high health clinic. School personnel collected the student’s schedule, including transportation and extra-curricular activities, to determine which students or staff would be considered close contacts. The superintendent declined on Friday to disclose how many students were determined to be close contacts of the infected student, but said no staff members were.

Emily McIntyre, whose son, 12-year-old Evan, attends the school, said the email was very detailed as far as what occurred and the protocols in place.

“It went on to say we would get calls from the health department or a school nurse if our child was a student considered in close contact with the positive student,” she said. “It was very matter-of-fact.”

Greenfield-Central’s reentry plan states staff and students who test positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms can return to school after isolating at home for 10 days from the date symptoms begin; are fever free without fever-reducing medication for 72 hours; and other symptoms have improved for 72 hours. While isolating, students are able to attend school through the virtual option the school corporation offers.

Those who test positive but have no symptoms will isolate at home for 10 days from the day the test was taken. If they don’t develop symptoms, they may return 10 days after the test. If they develop symptoms, their isolation time starts on the first day of those symptoms.

The plan calls for close contacts to quarantine for 14 days before returning to school and to follow protocols for the various symptomatic scenarios.

The plan is available in its entirety at https://www.gcsc.k12.in.us/.

Olin said the school corporation’s nurse; a nurse the corporation hired to address COVID-19 protocols; and the junior high’s health assistant performed contact tracing. He said most of the process was completed Thursday night and then wrapped up Friday morning. It involved looking at seating charts and talking with the infected student, he continued, adding he’s confident the process resulted in all close contacts getting identified.

“I would say it probably over-identified,” Olin said, “but we’re erring on the side of caution.”

On Friday, junior high students who were determined not to be close contacts of the student were able to continue attending class in person.

It was a tense night Thursday for some parents, as they waited for the phone to ring letting them know if their child had been in contact with the infected student.

It was only if the call didn’t come that parents could be assured their child wasn’t among those identified as having come in contact.

Parent Scott Yost commended the way the school handled the situation, but in the future he hopes some kind of time frame is given for parents to expect a call.

“I don’t know how else they could have handled it better, other than waiting for the phone call for my son that never came,” he said. “I figured they would have reached out pretty promptly, but I didn’t know if we were supposed to wait all night.”

While he never got a call, several of his son’s friends’ parents did.

“I was glad for my kids but not for the others that got calls,” Yost said.

With a son at the junior high and a daughter at the high school, he and his wife, Crystal, faced the tough decision of whether to send their kids to school Friday. In the end, they felt the best thing for their kids was to get back into the classroom.

“I think my kids were ready to go back to school,” he said. “They needed it; they wanted it. I know e-learning was good for a while, but they needed that one-on-one with the teachers. I know they were glad to see their friends, because they hadn’t seen a lot of them since this whole (pandemic) started. It can affect their social skills if they’re not around people for very long.”

McIntyre agreed. Despite Thursday’s COVID scare, she and her husband, Eric, still sent their three children back to the junior high and high school on Friday.

“I talked to a couple other parents last night about ‘do we send them back to school or do we not,’ and my husband and I decided it was one day of normalcy for them,” she said. “We don’t really want to go right back to virtual learning.”

By sending them back, she feels it backs up her sentiment that she supports local school leaders and their decision to restart school.

“If I didn’t send them back I would feel like I’m not supporting the school in the way I say I do, and that’s important for the kids to see,” she said. “If we’re choosing to support the school, then our actions should match our words.

“We fully support Harold Olin and the school board. It seems like they jumped right into action, and they were good at communicating,” McIntyre continued.

Despite the news of a student testing positive at the school, she said her son, an eighth-grader, wasn’t nervous about returning to class Friday morning.

His parents reiterated to him the importance of the pandemic protocols, like social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. “He was excited to go back to school and just do the best he can,” McIntyre said.

Their daughter, however, a junior at the high school, was a little anxious after hearing of the positive test. “We just talked her through it and said if you decide to go virtual you can’t change your mind and go back” for a full semester, according to school policy, McIntyre said.

“As a family we decided to ride this out a little bit, and go back to being more conscientious like people were when COVID first hit, like keeping their distance from grandparents,” she said.

Tom Ailes, who has one child at the junior high and another at the high school, is playing things cautiously.

His wife, Amanda, has a medical condition that puts her at greater risk for COVID-19, he said, so their family opted to have their kids take the corporation’s virtual learning option this semester.

“Because of the uncertainties, we opted to stay home to protect our kids,” said Ailes, who knows his family is more capable of doing virtual learning because his wife is a stay-at-home mom.

“We’re blessed in that regard. I know it’s harder for others,” he said.

He said hearing that a positive test popped up at the junior high on the first day of classes reinforced his family’s choice to stay home.

“This is the exact reason why we chose not to have our kids go to school,” said Ailes, who wasn’t all that surprised that a positive case came up so quickly.

“Our cases have been going up,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we see cases starting up in the schools?

“We will probably see more cases in the coming days and weeks,” he continued. “We believe in what the doctors say, in what the experts say, that (the coronavirus) isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Ailes already convinced his son Spencer not to play soccer this fall as an extra precaution.

“I told them we can play this safe route and know that we’re protecting our family, and not wish that we would have played the safe route later,” he said.

The health department’s news release encourages people to monitor themselves and children for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. It adds that anyone awaiting COVID-19 test results should remain in isolation until those results are received and more information can be gathered.

Olin said about 15%, or about 640 students at Greenfield-Central schools, opted to start the year with remote learning. He added there were a couple more requests for that option Friday and that the school corporation is trying to be as accommodating as possible. The corporation made a lot of staffing and assignment decisions based on what families asked for upfront, he said, but it’s been able to make some adjustments. He also said those adjustments are easier to make at the junior high than some of the elementary settings, where some teachers are teaching only remote curriculum.
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