Blackwell schools face possible closure as COVID-19 surges

by Jordan Green

Blackwell Public Schools officials may close some school buildings and implement distance learning procedures if the district’s positive coronavirus case numbers continue to rise.

Superintendent Shawn Haskins said on Monday afternoon that he may shut down one or more of the district’s three schools if the number of students who have tested positive for the coronavirus increases. If a school closes, students will stay at home and attend school using electronic devices such as computers.

“If [the numbers] all keep going up, we may go to distance learning,” he said.

Haskins said he would consider closing Blackwell Elementary School, Blackwell Middle School, and Blackwell High School individually based on the number of positive cases in each building.

He said he would switch a school to distance learning if the school has five or more new COVID-19 cases in one day or if contact tracing becomes unmanageable.

“If we just keep getting one case every two or three days, that’s something,” Haskins said. “If we get bombarded with just five in one day … it’s too tough to do your contact tracing.”

As of Monday afternoon, six Blackwell High School students have tested positive for the virus, and 60 students were in quarantine. At Blackwell Elementary School, one student has tested positive for the virus, and so has one staff member. Thirty-two students were in quarantine there.

Blackwell Middle School has no active cases of the virus.

The number of students who are in quarantine may be higher than reported at some school sites, Haskins said. The district’s quarantine numbers only include students and staff who were exposed to the virus on school grounds.

“Our numbers only include kids who have come to school and we had to quarantine because they were in our buildings,” Haskins said. “We’ve got several kids out [of school] in the district that are in quarantine because, let’s say, mom or dad has it. My numbers do not reflect that. It’s hard to get those numbers. My numbers are kids that came into the school who were positive and we had to send these kids home to quarantine.”

While only one district employee has the virus, several employees are at home to take care of their children who are in quarantine, Haskins said.

“We have several teachers who are out because they have kids that were quarantined, and they can’t leave the kids home by themselves,” Haskins said.


Haskins said the district is quarantining two groups of students. The first group is comprised of students who have the virus; they are considered first-party contacts. The second group is comprised of students who have direct contact with a student who has the virus; they are considered second-party contacts. If a student is within six feet for at least 15 minutes of a student who has the virus, the student must quarantine.

“There’s a lot of confusion that people think, ‘Well, I’ve got to send my kid home because they were around somebody, that was around somebody, that was around somebody, that was around somebody that had it,’” Haskins said. “We don’t trace it that way. We just trace it back to second-party contact. … If you’ve been around somebody [who has the virus] six feet or closer for more than 15 minutes, you are to quarantine for 14 days.”

School officials and county health officials will contact students who need to quarantine themselves.

“If you don’t hear it from the school or the county, you don’t have to quarantine,” Haskins said.

Determining where students contract the virus is difficult, Haskins said. However, he believes that most students who have the virus have contracted it off school grounds, he said.

Haskins said he hopes to continue in-person instruction, but will close schools if necessary.

“The best education is face-to-face instruction,” Haskins said. “We want to keep doing it as long as we can in a safe manner. If we get very many more positive cases up there, for the safety of the kids, we need to shut it down.”


Kay County has more than 1,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, state health officials reported Monday.

As of press time, data from the Oklahoma State Health Department showed that Kay County had 1,112 cases of the virus, 207 of which are active. Officials said 887 Kay County residents have recovered from the virus, and 18 have died from it.

State officials report that there are 785 cases of the virus in Ponca City. Thirteen people there have died, and 656 have recovered. Blackwell has 125 cases, with 88 recoveries and two deaths. Newkirk has 101 cases, with 68 recoveries and one death. Kaw City has 23 cases, with 18 recoveries and one death.

The state health department does not provide data on coronavirus cases in some of the state’s smallest towns, including the Kay County towns of Braman and Nardin.

As of press time, the State of Oklahoma had 138,455 cases of the virus. Of those cases, 20,129 are active. Statewide, 116,882 people have recovered from the virus, and 1,444 people have died from it.

The United States has nearly 10 million cases of the virus. More than 237,000 Americans have died from it, and more than 3.8 million have recovered from it.