Hermann High School narrowly escapes shutdown as 160 students went into quarantine two weeks ago

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 9/18/20

HERMANN – Hermann High School narrowly averted a shutdown two weeks ago as 160 students were quarantined after a couple students tested positive for the coronavirus.

Superintendent Scott …

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Hermann High School narrowly escapes shutdown as 160 students went into quarantine two weeks ago

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HERMANN – Hermann High School narrowly averted a shutdown two weeks ago as 160 students were quarantined after a couple students tested positive for the coronavirus.

Superintendent Scott Smith Thursday night (Sept. 10) told the Gasconade Count R-1 School District Board of Directors that a shutdown would have occurred if only one more student had tested positive. As it turned out, 90 of the quarantined students were scheduled to return to campus Monday morning (Sept. 14).

As the list of quarantined students climbed to more than 150, HHS saw its student body fall to 58 percent, Smith said.

Thursday night’s session was the first since the start of the 2020-21 school year on Aug. 24. As might have been expected, the virus and its effect on students and staff commanded the lion’s share of discuss.

“COVID is the biggest issue we’ve been dealing with,” the superintendent said, noting that as of Thursday night, there were two active cases of the virus among the student body. There have been four positive cases among R-1 students since the start of the school year, he added.

Students placed on quarantine might or might not contract the virus, school and health officials say. Students are quarantined if they are in “close contact” with a classmate who tests positive. “Close contact” means being within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or longer, as outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

“It’s not something anybody wants to do,” Smith said of placing a student in quarantine, which means remaining at home for 14 days. “It’s something that has been handed down to us,” he added, referring to the response to the virus by the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services and, by extension, the Gasconade County Health Department.

Since the start of the school year, there have been four staff members who tested positive for the virus.

R-1’s top administrator acknowledged that some parents were upset about having their son or daughter quarantined. However, he said, it’s not the school district that makes the decision to send a student home for the extended period. “We cannot quarantine,” Smith said. Rather, he said, it’s a decision made by the county Health Department.

Gasconade County Health Department Administrator Greg Lara was on hand for the meeting and explained the rules for placing a student in quarantine comes from the state health agency, acting on the recommendation of the CDC.

Lara applauded the work of R-1 personnel in preparing for and responding to the virus and its effects. He also explained to the board the critical contact tracing process and how other county health departments are involved with R-1 students.

Of the four students who have tested positive since the start of the school year, each is from one of the four counties that make up the R-1 District.

As Lara explained, that means someone from the health departments of Gasconade, Franklin, Warren and Montgomery counties were calling contacts back in the Hermann area to notify them of possible close contact with the infected students.

“It’s a lot of coordination,” Lara said. “It’s a chore.”

On a side note, all but one person at the board meeting — directors, administrators, staff, teachers, reporters and visitors — wore a mask. The one who didn’t was Director Tim Schulte, who arrived carrying a mask but never put it on during the session.

Bearcat sports affected

Fall sports teams have taken a hit because of the number of students placed in quarantine. The varsity volleyball team has been sidelined, having only three members. The JV and freshman teams are still playing matches.

The softball team can field only eight players, one less than is needed to take the field. Other extra-curricular activities have been scratched because of coronavirus concerns, Smith said, such as FFA events.

The possibility of a high school shutdown and students taking part in distance learning for at least two weeks prompted a discussion and a vote on whether those students should be allowed to take part in extra-curricular activities.

“I'd hate to add one more thing for kids to miss out on,” said Director Becky Whithaus. However, she said, despite having that concern she feels academics is at the forefront and if students aren’t in class, they shouldn’t take part in extra-curricular activities.

That was the position of Board Vice President Dot Schoennig. “My feeling is if we have to shut down school, academics should come first,” she said.

Allowing the students to participate during their time of distance learning was favored by the majority of board members.

Recognizing the difference of opinion among directors, Smith suggested tabling the matter for a month. “But,” he said, “this is something that very likely will be coming our way and we’ll have to have another meeting.”

A split vote

The board voted 4-2 to allow students involved in distance learning to continue to participate in extra-curricular activities. Voting in favor were Schulte, who made the motion to allow the students to participate, Mike Pratte, Kevin Stiers and Jeff Englert. Voting against were Schoennig and Whithaus. Board President Mark Brooks was absent.

In other matters at the monthly meeting, principals at Hermann Middle School and Hermann Elementary School said they would continue a practice that took place this year aimed at increasing social distancing because of the coronavirus — split schedules for the Open Houses prior to the start of school. The Open Houses were attended in staggered sessions by families, based on the students’ last name, such as A-K at a specific time and L-Z a bit later.

Principals Matt Mueller and Kendtra Brune told the directors they feel the staggered attendance worked well and will be used  next year and perhaps beyond.

“There will be some good things come out of this pandemic,” Smith said, pointing to the change in Open House hours at the schools.

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