Sparta schools delay reopening in response to outbreak

Sparta. Acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney said the district was going to give the health department the time it needed to investigate positive cases and do contract tracing.

Sparta /
02 Oct 2020 | 02:03

The Sparta school district has delayed some phases of its reopening plan in response to the COVID-19 outbreak among its students and staff.

The planned return to campus of kindergartners and first graders was pushed back by one week, Acting Superintendent Patrick McQueeney announced at the Sept. 24 board of education meeting. Cohort B students were to begin in-person instruction on Monday, McQueeney said, with K-1 starting with Cohort B to maintain the district calendar.

“We’re going to give it time to allow the Department of Health to continue investigating positive cases and do their contract tracing, so we do not introduce the virus into our buildings,” McQueeney said. The district started the school year with all-virtual instruction, a departure from the original hybrid plan because of inadequate staffing.

Between Sept. 18 and 25, fourteen students at Sparta High School and a staff member at Sparta Middle School have test positive for COVID-19. The outbreak affected Sparta High School’s football and girls’ soccer programs, causing McQueeney to suspend all athletic activities for 14 days starting on Sept. 20. Practices were to resume on Monday.

McQueeney said grades 2 to 5 will begin with Cohort A.

Sparta Middle School and Sparta High School students are expected to return to school on Monday, Nov. 2.

“It was a difficult decision that we made, but one we wanted to be proactive about to continue to ensure the health and safety for all in our community,” McQueeney said.

Creating a dialogue

McQueeney also called a meeting on Sept. 22 with township and county officials to create a dialogue that would cut down the lag time between when the district learns of a coronavirus case and it being reported to the Department of Health.

“This meeting was very powerful, and everyone in the room had an open attitude and willingness to work together,” Sparta Township Deputy Mayor Christine Quinn told the Township Council on Sept. 22.

With the outbreak hitting the girls’ soccer and football teams, board of education member Robert Zywicki expressed concern that athletes were being vilified.

“Sports are not the cause of this outbreak,” he said. “They’re taking full precautions. Coaches are wearing masks. What’s going on is that team spread is happening not because of sports but because of other things that are happening in the community. Schools are open. They are safe. Sports is not a reason to not bring kids back.”

One obstacle to bringing students back to school in the hybrid model right away was the number of leaves or accommodations requested by district teachers. Board of education president Kim Bragg said there were up to 110 requests. McQueeney said each request requires an in-person conversation, and that he was still working his way through them.

“That all took time,” McQueeney said. “We’re opening in a couple of weeks and there are still some outstanding requests. Right now, our focus is on getting K-5 into school. There are still leave request and I still need to work on leave requests. What you’re seeing is not completed.”

“Sports are not the cause of this outbreak.They’re taking full precautions. Coaches are wearing masks. What’s going on is that team spread is happening not because of sports but because of other things that are happening in the community. Sports is not a reason to not bring kids back.” --Robert Zywicki