Blackwell High School switching to distance learning after principals exposed to coronavirus

by Jordan Green

Blackwell High School students will switch to distance learning for the remainder of the semester starting Wednesday because both of the school’s principals have been exposed to the coronavirus, school officials said.

Superintendent Shawn Haskins said Tuesday afternoon that neither principal has tested positive for the virus.

“Both principals are now in quarantine because they have come in contact with somebody that has COVID,” Haskins said. “There are no administrators at the high school for 10 days, so we can’t have a school because there are no administrators. … You can’t run a building with no administrators for 10 days.”

Haskins said Blackwell Elementary School and Blackwell Middle School students will continue in-person learning unless active coronavirus case numbers rise at each school. He said administrators will continue to monitor the number of cases at the schools on an hourly basis.

The decision to shutter in-person learning at the high school came four days after new active cases of the coronavirus were reported across the school district. As of Tuesday afternoon, seven students and staff members had tested positive for the virus, and 75 others were in quarantine, according to information posted on the district’s website.

The new cases were reported Friday, according to information on the district’s website. The district does not separately list case numbers among students and staff.

“I know there’s going to be a bunch of gossip, ‘They shut it down because of the COVID rates,’” Haskins said. “Actually, our numbers are still lower than what they were three weeks ago as far as quarantine and positive.”

Haskins said students have practiced distance learning multiple times this semester, which ends Dec. 18.

“We’ve had some practice distance days built into our schedule,” he said. “The high school kids know what to do. … We’ve rehearsed it. It’s kind of like doing a fire drill.”

The district also canceled a high school basketball game scheduled for Tuesday night because the school did not have enough administrators who could control the crowd at the game. The Perry Wrestling Tournament set for this weekend has also been canceled.

“We just can’t have school safely without them,” Haskins said.

Haskins said Tuesday morning that he could not identify the students who tested positive for the virus – or the students who are in quarantine – because of federal and state healthcare privacy laws.

He said he urges parents to keep their children from attending large gatherings where social distancing is not enforced.

“Our parenting style needs to change a little bit during this,” he said. “The parents need to be more aware of what their kids are doing and where they’re at. I still want them to be kids, but during COVID – the numbers are high in our community. I still want to keep the doors open. Coming to in-person school is the best thing we can do. I want to keep doing it as long as we can, but if there comes a tipping point where we have to stop, we’re going to have to stop.

“We need the parents to kind of help us.”

Haskins also said he is asking parents to keep their children home if they feel sick.

“The elementary [school] is telling me that they’re having some kids come to school who don’t feel well,” he said. “Typically, in a normal year, we send those kids and say, ‘Go tough it out and see what happens. If you get worse, call me.’ But in COVID times, if your kid says, ‘Hey, I don’t feel well, got a sore tummy or sore throat,’ you’ve got to keep them home so we don’t spread it to somebody else. We have to parent different during COVID.”

Usually, the district’s coronavirus case and quarantine numbers only reflect the number of students who tested positive for the virus – or were exposed to it – at school. However, Haskins said the district reported Friday’s cases on its website because the students either showed symptoms of the virus or tested positive for the virus within 48 hours of being at school.

“If you had somebody that tests positive on Sunday or started having symptoms on Sunday, you have to go back 48 hours, and they all were at school on Friday,” Haskins said. “That’s how it affects us. Let’s say that kid doesn’t show symptoms until Monday or Tuesday, but yet they don’t come to school Monday, and you were out Saturday and Sunday. Then it doesn’t affect us at all."

For these reasons, the number of students who are in quarantine may be higher than reported at some school sites, Haskins said.

Kay County has more than 2,100 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, state health officials reported Tuesday.

As of press time, data from the Oklahoma State Health Department showed that Kay County had 2,121 cases of the virus, 350 of which are active. Officials said 1,745 Kay County residents have recovered from the virus, and 26 have died from it.

State officials report that there are 1,568 cases of the virus in Ponca City. Thirteen people there have died, and 1,265 have recovered. Blackwell has 237 cases, with 203 recoveries and four deaths. Newkirk has 182 cases, with 154 recoveries and one death. Tonkawa has 145 cases, with 118 recoveries and six deaths.

Two Kay County towns – Braman and Kaw City – have no active cases of the virus for the first time in weeks. In Kaw City, 32 people have recovered from the virus, and one has died. In Braman, seven people have recovered from the virus.

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

As of press time, the State of Oklahoma had 218,389 cases of the virus. Of those cases, 31,742 are active. Statewide, 184,736 people have recovered from the virus, and 1,911 people have died from it.

The United States has nearly 15 million cases of the virus. More than 284,000 Americans have died from it, and more than 5.7 million have recovered from it.