COVID quarantine could force some Harnett schools to close

Posted November 30, 2020 6:45 p.m. EST
Updated November 30, 2020 8:20 p.m. EST

— The Harnett County school system is feeling the stress of coronavirus. At one school, Coats Elementary School, 57 people are quarantined including employees and students. Roughly 65 to 70 percent of students are taking classes in person, with elementary students on campus Monday through Friday.

Harnett County Schools superintendent Doctor Aaron Fleming says if absences keep spiking because of quarantines, some schools might have to shift gears to all remote learning.

In total, 351 people in Harnett County Schools are in quarantine, with 26 positive cases.

A teacher assistant and bus driver at a Harnett county elementary school spoke on the phone with WRAL News and asked to remain anonymous.

“It is very stressful. We have students five days a week,” she said.

The teacher assistant mentioned that quarantines have triggered persistent staff shortages.

“We combine classes because we’re short on staff, short on drivers. We have even had a shortage in the cafeteria," she said.

She has also said substitute teachers have often been unavailable because they, too, were in quarantine.

Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming said the system is considering its options if conditions continue to worsen.

“I certainty think think there is a potential of shutting schools down in the event that we a have significant number of staff members absent," he said.

So far, he says, moving staff from one campus to another to help with absences -- and pulling employees from the central office -- have kept schools operating.

"We’re not sure exactly where the threshold is to where we have to shut down a school due to staff and the supervision of students. We don’t think we’re there yet, but we are concerned with the number we’re showing,” Fleming said.

Quarantine numbers have fluctuated widely week by week. Last week, North Harnett Primary had 51 quarantines: now it’s 13. COVID cases, meanwhile, have kept steady, staying between 20 and 30.

“We’re making the choice in many cases to make sure that our quarantines are staying high to ensure a lower positive rate,” Fleming said.

But the teacher assistant said it’s best to go all online.

“The outbreak can’t be controlled in this atmosphere. Too many students around in the same place,” she said.

The district requires students and staff to quarantine if they have come in to contact with any COVID-positive person. In many cases, the quarantines last three to five days -- enough to get tested. Other quarantines last two weeks.

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