SMSD elementary school shut down temporarily after ‘several individuals’ exposed to COVID-19

East Antioch Elementary will be closed Wednesday, Nov. 18, because multiple individuals connected to the school were recently exposed to COVID-19. Photo courtesy Shawnee Mission School District.

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East Antioch Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District has been closed temporarily after multiple individuals in the school’s community were exposed to COVID-19.

In an email to parents and staff sent late Tuesday night, SMSD Superintendent Mike Fulton and East Antioch Principal Felicia Netolicky said the school would be closed Wednesday, Nov. 18, because district staff had not had enough time to thoroughly contact trace after learning about the multiple exposures.

“[O]ut of an abundance of caution, East Antioch Elementary School will have a remote learning day tomorrow, November 18, 2020. Students will not attend school in-person,” the message read. “We expect to complete contact tracing by [Wednesday] at noon. We will also use this time to do a deep cleaning of the school, as an additional precautionary measure to ensure the building is safe for students and staff.”

The email did not specify whether the exposed individuals were students, staff or family members. Fulton and Netolicky said the district anticipates East Antioch will reopen for in-person learning on Thursday, Nov. 19.

This is the first known case of an entire school in Shawnee Mission having to shut down, even temporarily, because of pandemic-related issues since students began returning for in-person learning in early October. But it has been a possibility that has been raised by district leaders in recent weeks, as staffing shortages related to the pandemic have become more acute and community spread in Johnson County has rapidly worsened.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, Fulton said district officials would strive to give staff and families at least 14 days notice before making a change in scheduling or learning mode, but admitted that there could be cases where that might not be possible.

“If, at the building or district level, we have staffing shortages and health concerns, we reserve the right to take steps more immediately, like treating it like a snow day,” he said. “We want to avoid that emergency situation, but we will reserve the right to make an immediate change if need be.”

The pandemic has put an increased strain on district resources. On Monday, the district announced middle and high school students would return to remote learning on Nov. 30 because there are not enough certified staff and substitutes to fill the increasing number of classroom vacancies across the district.

The district’s COVID-19 dashboard reports this week that 180 staff are in either active isolation or quarantine and more than 820 students are, as well.

For now, elementary students will continue to attend school in person, but Fulton said this week that if conditions in Johnson County continue to deteriorate, those students could also be shifted back to remote learning.