Students and Families Return to Central Elementary School Aug. 26.

Students and Families Return to Central Elementary School Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Less than a week after classes started, administrative staff at Union’s Central Elementary School is in quarantine after an office employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

The employee tested positive Saturday and is doing well, Union R-XI School District Superintendent Steve Weinhold said.

After contact tracing discussions with the Franklin County Health Department, Weinhold is confident COVID-19 has not spread to students, teachers or staff outside the office.

“We’re sure that it was contained to the office,” he said.

Weinhold hasn’t had a chance to discuss with the employee how she might have been exposed to the virus, he said.

Classes are continuing at Central with Claire Heaton, assistant principal at the new Prairie Dell Elementary, serving as interim principal until Central administrators return, which is expected around Sept. 10, Weinhold said.

An administrator from the district office and one from another school also will work in Central’s administration. All the interim staff has experience working at Central.

The district does not plan to reassess its COVID-19 procedures, Weinhold said. They include elementary school students attending school on campus five days a week, with face masks required for staff and students in grades four and higher when they are not able to social distance.

“We just have to be more diligent with social distancing and masking, and keep the protocols in place,” he said.

Students also have the option to take all virtual classes, though they are required to commit to an entire semester of at-home learning. The classes use software from Arizona-based Edgenuity, but students report to Union R-XI teachers.

Like other Union R-XI campuses, Central Elementary returned to classes Wednesday, Aug. 26. Many parents wore masks as they walked their students up to the building.

A large balloon arch welcomed students back, with some families taking pictures in front of it. At the time, Principal Dr. Leslie Lause said no large building-wide welcome back activities were planned.

Central posted a video to its Facebook page, @centralwildcatpride, with new protocols it is taking because of the virus. They include providing parents with a bar code to help with the process of picking up children after school.

As the coronavirus pandemic expanded, the Union R-XI Board of Education voted in March to go to all remote learning, which continued through the end of the 2019-20 school year.

Going into the 2020-21 school year, staff initially proposed a hybrid model where middle and high school students alternate days of the week between being on-campus and learning at home. But the board narrowly voted to go with students going to campus five days a week.

For elementary school students, on-campus learning five days a week has always been the plan, except for students taking virtual classes. Weinhold said elementary students benefit from taking classes in 20-student “cohort” groups that don’t change throughout the day.

The district also took precautions like removing furniture from classrooms to allow desks to be farther apart to allow for social distancing.

According to polling done by the school district in the summer, the all on-campus approach was most popular among elementary school parents. Among families, 57.9 percent of the 834 elementary parents to respond wanted all in-person classes, as opposed to blended or virtual learning. The percentage wanting all in-person classes dropped to 46.4 percent for middle school parents and 50.5 percent for parents of high school students who responded.