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Bermudian Springs School District Updates COVID-19 Policies

Bermudian Springs School District Superintendent Shane Hotchkiss told the district’s school board last week that the district would account for positive COVID cases differently going forward and present the case counts on a newly-developed online dashboard.

“I will share with you that we’re very clear today that in order for a student to count, which would be our dashboard, they have to be physically present while infectious,” Hotchkiss said. “So full disclosure, we’ve been counting all students because until today, we thought we had to. There was no other guidance. But moving forward on the dashboard, you will only see positive cases presented of students who were infectious while they were in school.”

Hotchkiss also said updated official guidance would allow for a shorter quarantine period than before. 

Bermudian, like all other districts, will be required to close if the case count increases above a specific number within a 14-day rolling window.

“It’s a fair amount of phone calls and reaching out to parents and families because the Department of Health simply can’t keep up,” Hotchkiss said. “I’d like to thank all of those individuals that do that work and make sure they’re do their due diligence, and we’re appreciative and they’re doing the best they can. We just want to say thank you.”

Hotchkiss said that much of the district’s information, such as updated health and safety plans, are available on the district’s website.

Hotchkiss thanked the district staff for their work during trying and unique circumstances. Many are having to complete contract tracing as the state is overwhelmed, he said.

President, Vice-President Elected

The board unanimously re-elected Board President Michael S. Wool and Vice-President Richard L. Sterner to their previous offices.

Public Comment

Three community members spoke during the meeting:

Kelly Deah, a parent, said she is concerned about children being kept from full-time, in-person school. The district has a hybrid schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Deah was concerned about higher rates of child abuse, overdoses, suicide, depression, self-harm and other worrisome trends across the nation.

“At the end of the last board meeting, one of the board members approached a group of us who were talking in the back of the auditorium and expressed his thoughts further about COVID,” Deah said. “He stated that his chronic health problems and that he lives with his grandson who attends the school, and that he would feel incredibly guilty if a student or family member contracted COVID from the school and it resulted in the death of that student or family member. He also alluded to the liability the school might face.”

Deah cited a case of a child who recently died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in California as an example of what she is afraid will happen in increasing numbers across the country. She said that many parents want their children to return to school as normal.

Jennifer Goldhahn said that she believes meeting minutes are sometimes incomplete and that remotely-held board meetings should be better advertised and easier to access. She suggested that the district should alert the community about meetings through emails and phone calls.

Goldhahn expressed frustration at not finding attachments included with digital copies of meeting minutes, saying she had to request them separately.

“We should be able to have the transparency,” she said. “It’s our children’s education.”

Goldhahn asked that the district improve its record-keeping in the minutes and the delivery of information to the community.

“What are you guys doing?” she asked. “Is there a way I could help? Is there a way we can improve things?”

Mary Kemper, who said she has worked in pediatrics for 19 years, also asked the board to allow children to attend in-person full-time and to modify its COVID-19 case reporting.

“There are many teachers who are super fearful of COVID,” Kemper said. “All of you teachers have been exposed to a multitude of airborne diseases since you started student teaching. Older teachers have been teaching before the meningitis vaccine was mandated. Meningitis can be deadly within 24 to 48 hours. Oh, but that’s not shoved in your face 24/7 by the media, so we don’t think about that. Teachers with little children, pertussis and whooping cough is mostly transmitted from teenagers and can be lethal to your infants, but again, media’s not shoving it in your face 24/7, so we forget about that.”

Kemper implied that teachers should hold regular classes.

“Teachers need to step back and think why you became a teacher and it should be for the love of the students,” Kemper said. “You have to look past the fear factor. If the fear is overtaking these teachers, then are you using that same fear in everyday life, or are these teachers still going to friends’ houses, weddings, birthday parties, grocery stores, out to dinner? Yes, many of them are. Well, then that fear is not valid at school. Because you should have the same fear in everyday community life as you would at school. So if they’re still living a normal life, that’s not fair to these children.”

Kemper said that teachers with high-risk factors should stay home, but said they would be exposed more by attending events such as Black Lives Matter events than they would be at school.

Kemper said that staying home has had severe effects on children, including suicidal ideation.

“I can tell you the numbers we’re seeing for mental health are way beyond your expectations,” she said.

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The meeting can be attended online here.

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Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.

You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.

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