FREDONIA — Fredonia USD 484 is in the midst of an active COVID-19 outbreak. The school reported two new positive results Friday afternoon, bringing its total number of active cases to 10. The number of those under quarantine restrictions also increased from 58 to 71. The week began with one active case and skyrocketed from there.
Despite state and federal guidance strongly recommending universal indoor K-12 masking, the USD 484 Board of Education opted to open the school year with a mask-recommended policy. Over the course of the week, thresholds were met which activated mandatory masking.
The two major criteria for districtwide mandatory masking include 10 or more positive cases, or at least 50 students/staff under quarantine restrictions.
All 10 infections are among the student population. Six of those are fourth- through sixth-grade students, three are first- through third-grade students, and one is at the high school. Superintendent Brian Smith said that the six positive cases activated “code red” for the intermediary wing of the Lincoln building, resulting in a shutdown through next week. While the 50-plus quarantines activated code orange, the five-plus positive cases in a single wing of the building set off code red.
Smith believes the exposures occurred outside of the school setting, but then spread within the building.
“If they’ve been in the building and then they test positive, that’s considered an in-building positive case,” he said of the district’s Gating Committee criteria in determining case counts. “So that’s what allows us to make that a check-mark in that box for us to add to our Gating criteria. But we believe that all the exposures are from others outside the buildings.”
Smith addressed the crisis in a letter addressed to parents and caregivers posted on Facebook Thursday.
“The past 30 hours have been extremely stressful on our district,” he said, noting that the number of students in quarantine had grown exponentially.
Students in fourth through sixth grades will be out of class beginning Friday and not return until Sept. 20, Smith said.
“This will allow our teachers to gather their devices,” the letter said. “All remaining students will be in session and should report to school at their normal times.”
Smith said the “COVID variant” has created a lot of heartache for the district.
“Our students and our employees’ safety is our top priority,” he said.
Smith said that the school board was aware of the recommendations for indoor masking prior to the start of the school year.
“Our data did not warrant any of those issues,” he said. “That’s where our gating criteria progressively increased, and masks became required when we hit those thresholds.”
Smith estimates that 65 percent of certified and classified staff have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our kids and staff members’ (numbers) were very low in August, and that’s why they decided to keep masks recommended,” he said.
Smith noted that once those numbers drop below the aforementioned thresholds, the district reverts back to masks-recommended. He also mentioned that in addition to his administrative team, a pair of local county health department officials are also on the Gating Committee. They include county health officer Dr. Jennifer McKinney, also a member of the USD 484 BOE, as well as Wilson County Health Department Administrator Lisa Shoop.
McKinney is also a co-chair of Governor Laura Kelly’s newly-formed Safe Classrooms Workgroup. Smith said that despite McKinney being a proponent of indoor K-12 masking, the board still does not have the necessary votes to implement a mandatory masking measure.
“She would love to have universal masking,” Smith said. “But there’s not four votes to make it happen. And that’s what we have to look at — how can you get four votes?”