Group of Newton teachers in quarantine

By Blake Spurney

A group of Newton second-grade teachers went into quarantine after being potentially exposed to someone who later tested positive for COVID-19.

Superintendent Fred Van Ranken declined to name the school or give a specific number of teachers in quarantine because he said he didn’t want to potentially identify any employees. He gave the number of teachers in quarantine as “several” and said the potential exposure occurred during professional learning time.

“The quarantine period will have ended before the time the school year starts, but this is something that could have happened during the course of the school year,” he said.

Van Ranken said one thing people needed to understand was if the district was forced to shut down a grade level or even an entire school, that time will have to be made up later. Public schools are stautorialy required to provide 1,116 hours of instructional learning to students, excepting seniors.

Van Ranken told USD 373 Board of Education members Tuesday that staffing could be an issue becuase the number of substitute teachers was limited for such a scenario. On Friday, he said the substitute pool comprised 30 to 40 percent of retired teachers, many of whom fall into the at-risk category for COVID-19 due to their age. The district is also shorthanded when it comes to aides to supervise classrooms for teachers providing remote learning.

Van Ranken said space to meet social-distrancing guidelines also was an issue at each of the schools. He said he was looking at various options, which he will discuss with board members at the next meeting on Sept. 8.

District spokeswoman Samantha Anderson provided the following statement about the quarantine:

“Due to the nature of this particular outbreak, giving numbers could potentially be an identifier.We did have a positive case, but it did not cause an entire grade level to be quarantined. With the positive case, we worked with the health department on providing the information they needed.

“As with any positive case, the health department will conduct the contract tracing and contacting direct contacts.

“We are taking safety precautions, including but not limited to using masks, conducting temperature checks and practicing social distancing.

“The current cases that we know of will all be resolved by the start of school. We do have contingency plans in place to ensure learning continues after a quarantine of staff or positive case.”

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