A classroom of elementary students in the Millard Public Schools is in quarantine at home after a cluster of COVID-19 cases was identified this week in the class.
The classroom will be closed for seven days to prevent possible spread, a district official said.
The situation could be a model for how the school district and health officials handle future clusters in the new school year.
District officials requested the classroom quarantine after three students in the class at Montclair Elementary School tested positive, and transmission was suspected, a district spokeswoman said.
The school, located at 2405 South 138th St. in Omaha, has about 700 students and has a Montessori program.
Spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman said one case in the Montclair classroom was verified Monday, and the parents of classmates were notified.
Late on Tuesday, school officials learned of the additional two positive cases, she said. At that point, district officials notified the classroom parents to keep their kids home on Wednesday, she said.
Two additional students are suspected of contracting the virus, which would make five in all if confirmed, Kleeman said.
Kleeman said the district is following the guidance of the Douglas County Health Department on quarantining.
She could not say how many kids were in the class and quarantined, but most elementary classes typically have around 20 to 25 students.
Millard students returned to school a week ago for in-person learning. The district opened the school year with a mask-optional policy. Parents have been divided on the policy, and the school board members are set to review it Sept. 7.
The health department has said that if the quarantined children test negative on the fifth day, they can return to school on the eighth day, Kleeman said.
If they are not tested, the children may return after the 10th day, she said.
The health department is asking the children to wear a mask for the remainder of the 14-day incubation period, she said.
Whenever the district asks a full class to quarantine, Kleeman said, the teacher will provide remote Zoom learning to the students. If some students return before others, the teacher will resume normal in-class teaching for them, but students still out will learn at home with materials provided by the district, she said.
“We will get the work to them,” Kleeman said. “And it could be gotten to them in a number of ways. That’s going to depend on the classroom teacher.”
As of noon Wednesday, 11 of the district’s 25 elementary schools were reporting no active cases, and the rest of the elementary schools from one to four cases, but not necessarily in the same classroom, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Superintendent Jim Sutfin this week emphasized the importance of children returning to in-person learning, because of the pitfalls of remote instruction.
He assured parents that he would be closely monitoring daily COVID-19 cases, with a particular eye out for clusters.
Sutfin told parents Monday he anticipated that this school year, the district might have to temporarily require masking or temporarily close a classroom, grade level or school.
As of noon Monday, the district had 41 active cases of students and teachers, representing .15% of the student and staff population, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The dashboard on Wednesday morning showed 52 reported cases, or .19% of the population.
Last school year, when students were masked, 1,068 of the district’s 23,000 students tested positive for the disease. Students logged a total of 51,775 days in quarantine, the district said.
The Douglas County Health Department recommended to all school districts before the start of the year that students and staff mask in schools. Absent a mandate, however, the health department could not require masks, director Lindsay Huse said Wednesday.
She said cases of COVID-19 among children and adolescents have increased over the past month.
The health department has evidence within the community that transmission of the virus can and does happen among children, counter to the school of thought earlier in the pandemic that children weren’t involved in transmitting the virus.
“Some have felt that that’s not something that really happens, but we definitely (have evidence) that we have transmission, and significant transmission, that happens in that age group,” she told the Douglas County Board of Health.
Districts also received the same guidance in terms of how the health department would handle isolation and quarantine, based on guidance from the state. If there is an isolated case with no evidence of transmission in a classroom or school, health officials notify families that their students may have been exposed and advise them to mask those children and monitor them for symptoms for 14 days.
If health officials have evidence of transmission, she said, kids are to be kept home, as they were last year. Evidence of transmission is considered more than two related cases. “Then we’re looking at quarantining because we’re seeing evidence of transmission happening within that school setting,” she said.
The health department Wednesday also reported that it is investigating two COVID-19 outbreaks among attendees, staff and household members tied to local summer camps.
Forty-nine confirmed cases have been linked to a day camp for children in first through fifth grades. Nine cases have been confirmed as the highly transmissible delta variant. The investigation, health officials said, strongly suggests high levels of transmission at the camp. Masks were optional, and most of the children who attended did not wear them. Most also were too young to be eligible for vaccination.
In the second investigation, which is ongoing, 20 cases so far have been linked to an overnight camp for students in sixth through 12th grades. Three cases have been confirmed as the delta variant.
World-Herald staff writer Julie Anderson contributed to this report.
Public school districts in the Omaha metro area
Bellevue Public Schools
Bennington Public Schools
Douglas County West Community Schools
Elkhorn Public Schools
Fort Calhoun Community Schools
Gretna Public Schools
Millard Public Schools
Omaha Public Schools
Papillion La Vista Community Schools
Ralston Public Schools
Westside Community Schools