Masks and sanitzers and bears OH, MY!

Students welcomed back to major changes amid COVID-19 pandemic, notifications of positive tests announced

Justin Diep, Copy Editor

Students were welcomed back on Oct. 19 on the district’s 3/2 Family plan. Students were greeted by their teachers like always, but that was about all that was normal.

From one-way hallways, to desks being separated and all facing one way, to only having one student per table at lunch, there were several changes.

“I like how the school is trying to keep us socially distanced,” sophomore Alexander Varela said. “Although I don’t like passing periods because we are all still crowded going one way in the halls.”

While several layers of precautions were in place, such as mandatory masks/face coverings, social distancing, frequent handwashing and sanitizing as well as strict disinfecting routines,  parents still ended up receiving an email notification the next day that two individuals had tested positive for COVID-19. They received another email six days later, Oct. 26, notifying them that another individual had tested positive.

“I appreciate them trying to get us back in school because it’s way better for us to learn,” sophomore Francisco Bautista said. “But it’s too risky now and puts us at risk of getting COVID.”

Initially, just over 300 students decided to opt into full remote learning prior to the start of second quarter. Since then, a growing number of students who came back on the 3/2 plan, have switched back to strictly remote learning. The school currently has over 600 students who are remote only.

The drastic increase of positive COVID-19 cases in the state could account to so many students’ return to remote learning. Junior Marcos Montejano is one of those students.

“I don’t want to risk getting COVID and spreading it to my family,” Montejano said. “I would rather wait for it to be safe for the entire district to be back in-person.”

For the fourth week in a row, both the State of Nebraska and Douglas County posted record numbers of new COVID-19 cases. The state recorded 5,796 new cases last week, up from 5, 570 the week of Oct. 11, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

Staff members have also expressed their concerns for a return in person, but overall have expressed their happiness in being able to see students again. Social studies teacher Thomas Allen understands the risk associated with returning but is trying to remain positive.

“It might not be the best thing for everybody to come back,” Allen said. “I just want to see you guys. I want to see the students. That’s what makes my job, having students.”

And while the school has had a few reported positive cases, they have followed the district’s plan.

If a staff member or a student tests positive for COVID-19, the district will engage their contact tracing team to identify who needs to be quarantined. Students who are found to have COVID-19 symptoms at school will be moved away to a designated location to be picked up to hopefully help reduce spread.

“If someone is found to be in close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19, they will receive direct communication from district human resources or health staff,” Bridget Blevins, Supervisor of External Relations for OPS said. “A general advisory will be sent to the staff and families in a school to ensure they are aware.”

Staff and students who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be ordered to stay home to recover. It will be assessed on a case by case basis if teachers will be able to teach while they are quarantined.

“In partnership with district contact tracers, OPS will work with staff members to identify next steps if it is determined quarantine is necessary,” Blevins said.  

OPS’s plan for a return during second semester will be decided later in the year on what return model we will be using.

“That will be dependent on health conditions in our community,” Blevins said. “As second semester approach-es, we’ll absolutely share those updates with our staff, students, and families.”

It will be up to the Department of Education at the national and state levels to decide if students will take statewide required assessments this school year.