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High school students make their way into the building, sporting masks, on the first day of school Aug. 12.

CHURUBUSCO — One week after starting back to school, Smith-Green Community Schools has had its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff confirmed Wednesday that a Smith-Green staff member has tested positive.

Smith-Green administrators conducted contact tracing, identifying eight staff members and about 30 students who were considered “close contacts” with the ill individual, and all have been sent home to quarantine.

“Our local health officials worked alongside our staff to conduct the contact tracing process for the first time,” Superintendent Dan Hile said. “All of our previously approved plans and protocols were followed, and all of the affected families and staff members were contacted as quickly as possible by our school staff.”

Just one week into school, this single case probably won’t be the only one at Smith-Green, or other Whitley County schools, this year.

“While I wish this was a one-time event, this of course will likely not be the only positive case that we see this year,” Hile said.

He recognizes, however, that the news may be unsettling to families.

“We understand that this was the first case, and this is still so new to all of us, it has caused some anxiety and concern for students, parents and staff.”

Students sent home to quarantine will continue their education virtually until they are able to return to school.

Hile said students and staff have done an excellent job of following protocols — proper hygiene and mask-wearing — but that won’t stop all cases.

“Our kids and staff have been phenomenal. They’ve done a great job and we are so proud of the great job they are doing every day,” Hile said. “But even with the best plans, people will catch this sometimes.”

Future cases will be treated the same way — contact tracing to determine how many individuals need to stay home.

“Seating charts and daily routines are reviewed to allow us to determine which individuals meet the criteria of a close contact to the person infected with COVID-19,” Hile said.

The school will contact those families as soon as possible; but, don’t expect the school to identify the person who is sick.

“Due to HIPPA and FERPA laws and privacy concerns, we are being advised by local and state health officials that we should not send out a mass message to the entire school district each time a positive case is confirmed,” Hile said. “For that same reason, we are also not permitted to discuss or share any information that pertains to positive cases for students and staff other than with those families who are affected. We understand that this may cause concern for families who are not contacted as rumors of positive cases begin to circulate.”

Families at Smith-Green still have the opportunity to move their child between in-person class and virtual through Sept. 1.

“I cannot thank you enough for all of your support and encouragement over these last few weeks,” Hile wrote in a letter to parents Wednesday morning. “As excited as we have all been to see our students again, I’m sure you know that the current realities we all are facing have created a lot of anxiety and stress as we try to learn how to give our students the best school year possible while following a long list of required protocols to help keep everyone safe.”

Hile acknowledged that it possible that students may need to return to online-only instruction at some point this school year, but he hopes that by continuing to follow procedures, “we will be able to continue having school in person for the foreseeable future.”

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