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Paris schools see 72 COVID cases throughout academic year

Alex Gladden
Fort Smith Times Record

The Paris School District has had 72 students and staff test positive for COVID-19 this academic year. 

Of those 72 cases, 18 of them were staff members. The rest were students. Superintendent Wayne Fawcett said no staff members or students have contracted the virus at the school. 

In January, the district had to close its doors for two days because there weren't enough teachers and substitutes to conduct classes. That was because teachers had to go into quarantine after being exposed to people who had the coronavirus, Fawcett said. 

Superintendent Wayne Fawcett said that Paris schools are constantly disinfecting to keep kids safe.

There has also been an occasion where the Paris Middle School had to close because there weren't enough substitutes throughout the district to keep all three schools open, Fawcett said. 

The high school has had to do the same on two to three occasions, Principal Mike Nichols said. 

“So that’s been a major challenge," Nichols said. 

During those days that the schools were closed, students learned virtually, Fawcett said. 

This is what Fawcett called "the ripple effect of quarantine." 

All students have Chromebooks to do their work while they are at home. The district has also organized places throughout the community where students can use WiFi for free. 

Fawcett said that teaching students virtually has been the district's biggest challenge throughout the pandemic.

Students can choose to exclusively learn online, rather than go to class, but Fawcett said that more than 80% of students haven't been successful doing so. 

Teachers are in charge of teaching both their in-person students and students who choose to learn from home. Some teachers video their lectures and put them on YouTube. Others use video-conferencing sites to live stream class to online learners. 

The schools have also had days where students could choose to go to class or learn from home. 

Fawcett said that about two-thirds of the district's teachers have received their first round of vaccines. They will receive the second shot Feb. 19. 

Throughout the district, the three schools are having to take precautions against COVID. 

Everyone who enters any of the district buildings has to wear a mask. But Fawcett said the schools do have mask breaks during which the students can take off their masks if they are six feet away from other people. 

In classrooms, the desks have plexiglass separating students to try to add an extra layer of protection against COVID. 

Nichols said the high school is doing the same in the cafeteria. Although students do not sit six feet apart, they do have plexiglass separating them while they take off their masks to eat. 

Students sit with one space between them at lunch. 

“So we minimize the spread as much as possible when students pull their masks down to eat," Nichols said. 

The high school has also split its students into two lunches to allow them to spread out more. 

“We do our best to keep students spaced out as much as possible," Nichols said. 

Part of keeping the students safe includes regular sanitation. Teachers disinfect desks in between classes, Nichols said. 

Workers disinfect buses after each route, Fawcett said. 

“We disinfect constantly," Fawcett said. 

A positive that has come out of learning during the pandemic is that teachers have had to become more acquainted with technology, Nichols said. 

He also said that the protocols to protect students from the virus have also cut down on other kinds of sicknesses like the flu or the common cold. 

Nichols plans to keep some of the cleaning procedures in place after the pandemic. 

“We’re actually having a really good year," Nichols said. "We’ve learned a lot”