Harnett Schools On Brink Of Another Shutdown As Quarantines Rise

Harnett County Schools knew reopening its campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic would present challenges.

The district now faces a possible staff shortage one month in due to a rising number of quarantines.

Three schools registered more than 30 quarantines last week, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, leaving some campuses short-handed. Should the problem worsen, certain schools could shutter once again and shift back to remote-only learning.

“We’re seeing a significant number of quarantines, but of those are a significant number of staff quarantines,” HCS Superintendent Aaron Fleming said. “We’re getting into this area of making sure we do have enough staff to make school happen. That is a concern.”

Monica Thompson, HCS assistant superintendent of human resources, told the board that COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on classrooms, forcing teachers from one school to help out at another and even calling for district leadership to pitch in.

“We have a number of staff who had to be quarantined or have been exposed for various reasons and it has created some needs on our side for staff.” said Thompson. “We currently are covered by other schools and the central office. We are aware that sometimes that causes some cross-contamination, which we’ve really tried to mitigate here at the district level. I do think the fact that we are experiencing high numbers of people with flu and other viruses is impacting our number of folks who need to be quarantined and are dealing with other sickness.”

Should the increase persist, Thompson said some difficult decisions would need to be made about continuing in-person learning at trouble spots. Even substitute teachers found themselves in quarantine, complicating matters even further.

“We’re close to the threshold of us needing to go remote,” Thompson said. “We are doing our best to maintain a safe environment for children, but I think we’re getting close to the numbers at some schools with more than 20 staff members out either for sickness or quarantine for that process to be — maybe just look at those numbers and make decisions at a site by site position. Some of our subs are quarantined at this point so it is becoming more and more difficult as we move forward.”

Jermaine White, HCS assistant superintendent of student support, said the district follows a combination of protocols when determining if a student or staff member needs to be quarantined. As time moved on, White said more information about the COVID-19 virus is available and HCS works in tandem with the Harnett County Health Department.

“Our initial reaction [to COVID-19] was to shut down the school but we know more now,” White said. “If we continue to do what we’ve been doing I’m very confident we can keep the number of positive cases inside of our buildings to a minimum. We can continue to be proactive about quarantines.”

When board member Don Godfrey raised questions about the accuracy of testing, Thompson said the process has caused some problems.

“That’s certainly part of what is happening,” said Thompson. “We’ve had staff members with various results and some of them can be quarantined up to 24 days now under some of the new guidance based on test results.”

Fleming shared his concerns about discrepancies among testing sites and the wait time needed to get results back. Some test results come back within 24 hours while others take up to three days to process. While no decision proved perfect, Fleming said offering parents the choice of either in-person or remote learning was the best decision for everybody.

“You can’t make everyone happy,” said Fleming. “We believe we’ve given options for in-person learning, remote learning and we know no decision is going to be popular. It’s a very polarizing pandemic. But we’ve given choices and done the best we can to this point. Overall, most people have been happy, not because of one way or the other, but the fact that we’ve given choices. We believe parents should have the right to choose the instructional method for their child and so far it has worked well.”

HCS updates its COVID-19 dashboard every Monday and Thursday. North Harnett Primary School (48), Overhills High School (32) and Benhaven Elementary School (37) reported the highest number of quarantines, but just 8 total positive COVID-19 cases combined.

-Dunn Daily Record
(File Photo)