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Millard elementary school to be closed until Nov. 15 after spike in COVID cases
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Millard elementary school to be closed until Nov. 15 after spike in COVID cases

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Nebraska's coronavirus cases and hospitalizations were up again last week, indicating that the delta surge that began over the summer has not yet lost its sting.

COVID-19 may have forced the closure of an entire elementary school in the Millard Public Schools, but Superintendent Jim Sutfin said he's not recommending any changes in the district's mask-optional plan.

Black Elk Elementary, with 576 students, closed Monday and won't reopen for two weeks.

Sutfin said a lack of substitute teachers willing to work at the school was a factor in the decision to close the school until Nov. 15.

"We can't get a workforce because substitute teachers do not want to come to Black Elk because there is a COVID problem," he said. "The only choice we have is to close that building and clear it out."

As of Monday, Black Elk had 34 active cases, the highest among Millard's 35 schools, according to the district's dashboard.

The Millard school with the next-highest case count was Disney Elementary with eight. Ten schools had no active cases, and 12 had one case each.

Sutfin said that although Black Elk is closed, the district's other 24 elementary schools are still open.

"As of right now, I do not have a recommendation for the board to change the plan that we currently have because the plan has been effective," he said.

But Sutfin said that as activities move indoors this fall and winter, it will present a "dangerous" challenge for the district.

He said as soon as vaccines are approved for children age 5 to 11, the district will hold school-based clinics.

School board member Amanda McGill Johnson said, "My heart does go out to the families who've been impacted by Black Elk."

She said she understands the pressure it puts on people who have to scramble to make arrangements to have kids at home.

During the closure, students will learn remotely, spokeswoman Rebecca Kleeman said.

"We know that this is challenging for parents, so we'll give lots of grace, lots of understanding," she said. "We want to try to just keep going as best we can."

Kleeman said district officials don't know the cause of the spike at Black Elk, which is at 6708 S. 161st Ave.

The schoolwide closure comes after a sixth Black Elk classroom was closed and brought the percentage of the building closed because of COVID-19 to 25%, she said.

District officials announced over the weekend that the school would close Monday, then made the decision to extend the closure.

Students will be out of the building for 16 days, including weekends, enough to cover the 14-day recommended quarantine period.

"We're letting it run the cycle of the virus," Kleeman said.

Millard currently recommends but does not require masks in school.

Under Millard's protocols, after one confirmed case of COVID-19 has occurred in a Millard classroom, all others in class are required to mask for 14 days after the last unmasked exposure.

If two or more classrooms in a school are closed within a 14-day period because of COVID-19, all students and staff in the school are required to wear a mask inside for 28 days after the second class exposure.

When considering whether to close a classroom, the district consults with the Douglas County Health Department, but in general, the trigger is three cases in a classroom.

Sutfin said the district followed its protocols and imposed masking at Black Elk as cases were confirmed, but it wasn't effective in controlling the situation.


joe.dejka@owh.com,

402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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