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Derby Schools Gating Committee made the decision last Tuesday to move to total online learning for Derby High School, Derby Middle School and Derby North Middle School. An increase in positive COVID-19 numbers as well as teacher and staff concerns were among many reasons for the school location shutdowns. 

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.