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COVID moves three schools to online only: Fears and concerns expressed at Gating Committee meeting

A recent report to school board members from the district’s Gating Committee indicated that Derby schools might be avoiding an increased spread of COVID-19. But less than 24 hours later after receiving updated student and staff numbers on infections, quarantines and more, it appears the trends are leaning toward an upward spike.

Results of the Tuesday, November 10 Gating Committee meeting led committee members to agree that both Derby middle schools and the high school would move from in-person learning to virtual learning – meaning classes and teaching will take place offsite and online only – starting Monday, November 16.

It was decided that all elementary schools would remain in-person, due to smaller increases in COVID numbers as compared to the other buildings.

The district has also moved into the orange level on the gating criteria chart. The chart indicates which criteria will impact decisions on school operations and is based on considerations of COVID-19 community transmission and more.

Virtual learning will continue through Nov. 24. Thanksgiving break starts the next day, so students will be out of school through Sunday, Nov. 29. The next Gating Committee meeting is scheduled for Nov. 25 to determine learning modes for Nov. 30 through winter break. Superintendent Heather Bohaty can also make decisions in the event of drastic changes in COVID infections that might require immediate action.

At the Monday night school board meeting, local physician and Gating Committee member Dr. Marty Turner said community COVID numbers are starting to spike, but in Derby schools they are not.

“Even though the numbers in the community are getting high, the safest place to be is in the schools because we are following protocol,” Turner said.

The recommendation approved by the school board was to make school operational decisions based on putting a heavier weight on community and school district COVID trends, over total Sedgwick County trends, as cases and quarantine numbers continue to rise.

It was also recommended to provide some flexibility on decisions going forward with school athletics and activities based on data within each of the specific activity areas.

By Tuesday’s Gating Committee meeting, a group made up of predominately USD 260 staff felt that it was necessary to make a change. New infection and quarantine numbers, along with staff input, led the way to that change.

Derby Schools COVID-19 numbers

Weekly data provided by the Derby school district over an 11-week period between August 31 and Nov. 13 shows 89 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in students. And 33 – or 37 percent of the total 89 positive cases – were reported during the most recent 10-day period between Nov. 2-13.

In the same 11-week period, school district data shows 50 positive cases reported among staff. And 18 of the 50 positive cases, or 36 percent, were reported in a 10-day period between Nov. 2-13. A total of 139 positive cases in staff and students were reported in the 11-week period through Nov. 13.

Derby Middle School has seen the sharpest rise in case numbers recently while the high school is also reporting more positive cases. In a seven-day period between Nov. 2 and Nov. 10, Derby Middle School reported 11 new COVID cases while Derby High School reported 9.

Derby elementary schools have had minimal case counts and, because of that, they all will remain in the yellow level on the gating criteria chart.

With the rise in positive cases comes an increase in the number of quarantines. As days progressed, both staff and student quarantine numbers have been on the rise. Since August 31 more than 1,400 students in the district have been in quarantine at some time. Since Sept. 4, 226 district staff personnel have been in quarantine. 

Robin Westerman, school nurse at Derby Middle School, reported to the Gating Committee on Tuesday of last week that DMS had a large number of students and staff out on quarantine. The last reported number of those in quarantine from DMS was 175 along with the 11 new cases. Derby North Middle School only reported 3 new cases over a recent seven-day period. 

“For the first time, we are seeing some of our quarantined kids test positive and we have had seven cases in two days,” Westerman said.

Gating Committee member Amy Steadman shared information indicating that 30% of quarantined individuals are testing positive, according to the Health Department.

“When you are quarantining 75 kids at a time, a decent amount of those are going to come back positive,” Steadman said.

In a written report, local physicians said they were getting more and more calls from people who had tested positive for COVID-19 and that community numbers are definitely increasing. One physician wrote, “I would say there is a general sense of fear and concern building up in my patient population and the community.”

Dr. Turner told the Gating Committee that his office is getting 30 to 50 calls a day regarding COVID-19.

Mental health

The discussion of staff and student mental health was a topic some Gating Committee members felt needed to be addressed. Statements like “teachers are scared” or “teachers are freaking out” came up in relation to the mental health impacts the pandemic is having on teachers that are working in-person.

Ragan Snyder-Smith, a school social worker, said that mental health can impact physical health. She said teacher stress may contribute to teacher retention rates and impact teacher-student relationships.

“Severe stress over a long period of time is going to affect the physical health of our teachers. I just want to reiterate how important it is we take care of our teachers’ mental health,” Snyder-Smith said.

Even though no specific solutions for the concerns were discussed, it was something some committee members wanted to look into.

The Derby school district reports only new COVID-19 cases each week on their web site for Derby High school, middle schools and elementary schools. The numbers do not break down individual building counts other than the high school.

DMS teacher always ready for next chapter

From a young age, current Derby Middle School reading intervention specialist Rebecca Saldivar found teaching was pretty much in her blood. Both her mom and her sister were teachers and Saldivar recalls leading lessons with her dolls and stuffed animals, always asking her brother if they could play school.

“I think it’s just always been a part of my family and always something I’ve wanted to do,” Saldivar said.

Education is clearly important to Saldivar – a fitting example of the individuals honored during American Education Week (Nov. 16-20), which is intended to celebrate the ensured quality public education opportunities for all students.

A long story

Saldivar has been working at Derby Middle School for going on three years, but she has been serving students in USD 260 much longer than that – working in the district for more than three decades now.

Originally, Saldivar student taught at Pleasantview Elementary before taking her first job as a reading teacher at Wineteer Elementary. The Kansas City native and graduate of Wichita State University got married and took a job in Overland Park for one year before coming back to take a second grade position at Derby Hills Elementary – a position she held for 32 years.

Pursuing a master’s degree in reading at the start of her teaching career, that passion remained, which ultimately led Saldivar to take the job as reading intervention specialist with Derby Middle School in 2018.

“I always missed teaching those kids that were struggling. There had been several openings along the way where I could have gone and taken a reading position, but I really liked the classroom so much that I never kind of followed up on that until the middle school job came open,” Saldivar said. “These guys have got to get their reading skills up to grade level and I feel like I’ve got to really work hard not only to get them to where they need to be but also to build that love of reading so that they want to pick up a book, they want to read, they find out that reading is fun and you learn things when you read.”

While Saldivar thought she was always making a difference as a second grade teacher, she has seen how much more of a difference she can make getting back into reading full-time.

Sparking a passion

An avid reader herself, Saldivar said getting her first set of books – the “Little House on the Prairie” series – as a birthday present helped build that interest. The original airing of the television show along with a trip to Wichita’s Cowtown around the same time helped galvanize that.

Her own interest reinforced the importance of reading to Saldivar, which helped dictate her teaching focus and led her to try and foster that in others – knowing how difficult that can be.

“Reading is something that doesn’t come naturally for a lot of people. It’s kind of a mystery almost where you’re trying to figure out what is happening that is making it difficult for you to read and then filling in those gaps so things click,” Saldivar said. "You have to be very patient and very understanding.”

Saldivar’s friends and sister (a former Derby High School teacher) encouraged her to make the leap to teaching at the middle school level, something she has found she thoroughly enjoys.

With her years of experience Saldivar was prepared for the transition, with those positions teaching reading and second grade being a big help in reading intervention. While there is a curriculum to follow, Saldivar said she has some freedom to utilize her own strategies in helping students – as well as bringing in some of her favorite books to help spark that interest in reading.

All in the family

Moving in with her older sister – the teacher – in high school after her mom passed away is what Saldivar credits putting her on the path to being an educator. While she initially pursued a degree in psychology at the start of college, her family history and experience as a Sunday School teacher during high school got her on the teaching track.

“They were my kids. They were my classroom,” Saldivar said. “I was still playing school basically.”

Being a parent also helped shap her as an educator, Saldivar admitted, as it is something that made her more aware of her influence.

Over the years, Saldivar noted she has focused on building connections and fostering relationships with students and parents as a successful educational strategy. She has seen it work in her second grade classroom and hopes it can be just as beneficial to her students at Derby Middle School. 

“You know that saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child?’ It really does,” Saldivar said. “Maybe you don’t always have the same ideas on things but when you can sit down and you can talk in the best interest of the child you get so much more done and it’s so much more beneficial for everyone.”