BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. — After 10 students tested positive for COVID-19, Baxter Springs High School switched to full online remote learning Thursday and won’t return to in-person instruction until Sept. 21.
The virtual switch applies to all students in grades nine through 12. All extracurricular activities such as sporting events are canceled during this time, the school district announced on its website.
Superintendent David Pendergraft said they began seeing a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases this week with at least 31 students quarantined because of their proximity of the 10 confirmed cases. By the time in-school classes resume on Sept. 21, a majority of those with COVID-19 and those who have been quarantined will be able to return, he said.
“Basically, it was a trend that was coming out of Labor Day weekend,” he said. “We saw the increased numbers over the weekend and were notified. We came to school on Tuesday, and we saw an increase in those numbers. Then yesterday (Wednesday), we had a couple more confirmed cases. We felt like these numbers warranted us to go remote, for at least the rest of the week and all of next week, which will give them basically seven school days.”
The high school building will be disinfected with a fog spray, as well as high contact surfaces during the closure. If there are any identified positive cases in a classroom, Pendergraft said it’s sprayed twice.
The decision to move the high school to full virtual learning was not taken lightly, Pendergraft said, but that it was necessary to help curb the spread of the illness. The school district has been in constant communication with the Cherokee County Health Department.
“Our goal is to try to keep our doors open because we have kids who depend on that face-to-face learning,” he said. “We have options for all of our students to go remote, but we also have options for students who want face-to-face. We want to try to keep those options available for all of our kids. But we have to consider the safety for all of our kids and teachers.”
This is the first time the high school had to go to full remote learning, and attendance was adequate on Thursday, the first day of online instruction. All high school students can participate in Zoom calls during the day with school-issued laptops.
“They’re Zooming in with their classroom teachers on a regular schedule, and we use the learning platform Canvas,” said Pendergraft. “Those who have chosen remote for their continual learning throughout the year, they’re Zooming in on a regular basis. If one has to go to remote because of testing positive or being in quarantine, that transition is a little more seamless. Interruptions are very minimal.”
The remaining grade levels will continue school as normal at this time. Lincoln Elementary had three positive COVID-19 cases and 13 quarantines, but Pendergraft believes a majority of those individuals will come out of quarantine this week.
Baxter Springs Middle School, which shares a campus with the high school, did not have any confirmed COVID-19 cases. Pendergraft said Central Elementary also didn’t have any positive cases, but seven people were quarantined.
The Webb City School District’s Madge T. James Kindergarten Center resumed operation on Tuesday after being shut down since Aug. 25 because of COVID-19. A total of 10 staff members tested positive for the illness, resulting in the closure. No students tested positive. There is currently one individual in quarantine and no positive cases at this time, according to Superintendent Tony Rossetti on Thursday. He defined quarantine as someone who could’ve been in close contact with a positive case but may not have it.
“As far as hospitalizations, we’re not aware of any of them,” said Rossetti. “All of our staff are back except for one.”
Rossetti said about 91% of kindergarten students were in attendance on the first day back. He was at the kindergarten center on Tuesday and described it as exciting as the first day back to a new year.
“It was much like the first day back to school, but the kids had a better idea of where they were going,” he said. “It’s never nice to see traffic, but when traffic is backed up on Pennsylvania because Madge parents are dropping their kids off, that was a sight that I enjoyed seeing because we knew we had the building open. We had back to school twice.”
Rossetti said the attendance among staff is good. Screening measures have been implemented to keep teachers who may feel sick at home.
“Our staff was happy to greet them and bring them back into classes,” he said. “Things are going well. We’ve had some inconveniences, but I think we’re in a safer place. We did have the building disinfected, not only by ourselves, but an outside vendor. The teachers are following the plan, and I’m very proud of their efforts and how things are progressing.”