The Blue Valley school administration, notorious for putting the interests of adults ahead of students, has done it again. This time, a parent caught them consciously inflating the COVID positivity rate to justify the reimposition of a mask mandate. And instead of telling staff to follow board policy, the board decided to allow the administration’s rogue action to continue.
Amy Thomas is one of many warrior moms in the Blue Valley school district fighting the school board for the educational and emotional rights of her children. At the December 9 school board meeting, she shared proof that the district is including students quarantined as a precautionary measure, as well as those who submitted to a COVID test to avoid being quarantined.
Blue Valley publishes data by region within the district, and Thomas examined the data for the Southwest Feeder System.
For the week ended December 8, for example, the 15 positive results among the 3,773 staff and students would produce a 0.4% positivity rate. But district officials reported a 1.54% positivity rate because they reported 58 cases, counting the 9 quarantines and the 34 people who tested to stay in school.
Thomas also told school board members that there is no basis for counting quarantined students as positive.
“The Blue Valley Southwest nurse last year said in the entire 2020-21 school year, not a single student that was forced to quarantine tested positive. Not one. But we continue to force these kids to quarantine and miss school.”
District fudges positivity rate to keep staff from working too hard
After considerable public pressure, the Blue Valley board voted on November 8 to make masks optional in grades 9-12 effective November 29. Under the new mask-optional policy, masks would be required if a building recorded a 3% positivity rate with COVID positive and exclusions and the mandate would remain in place for two weeks.
Board member Mike Seitz said he thought the intent of the policy was not to include test-to-stay in the positivity rate calculation. Superintendent Tonya Merrigan tried to justify the inflated calculation, saying, “but if we didn’t have test-to-stay they would be quarantined.”
Stacy Obringer-Varhall said she believed it was the board’s intent to include test-to-stay in the positivity rate, but then board member Tom Mitchell said it wasn’t.
The November 8 Board Brief clearly shows Seitz is right.
“If the total percentage of positive cases and exclusions at a building rises above 3 percent, masking requirements will return for a minimum of 2 weeks.”
Obringer-Varhall continued to argue for counting test-to-stay, even after Mitchell confirmed that the motion they passed did not include test-to-stay in the positivity calculation.
Then the purpose of inflating the positivity rate was disclosed – it was for the benefit of school nurses doing the testing. Merrigan said staff was doing as much testing as they could do, and the inflated positivity rate was to ensure staff didn’t have to do more testing.
Seitz said he didn’t mean to upset the nurses, but that Merrigan had the wrong focus.
“I don’t think we should make a policy decision, in this case, on the basis of, gosh, it really is hard to do. I think we have an obligation to make a policy decision on the basis of what’s right, and figure out how to do it.”
Merrigan continued to argue for the inflated positivity rate. Not once did she indicate a concern for students’ academic and emotional best interests. It was all about what is best for staff. And this isn’t the first time.
After considerable discussion, it was decided to continue using the false positivity rate. In other words, the board decided to allow staff to continue going against the policy they passed in November. No vote was taken to amend the voted-upon policy; the board is just allowing staff to continue acting contrary to an approved policy.
If more staff is needed to keep test-to-stay in place, the board has millions of dollars at its disposal. Instead, the board once again does what the staff wants.
This won’t change until legislators step in to give students a fighting chance with money-follow-the-child legislation. So if you want student needs to be the top priority, you need to make legislators’ phones ring off the hook.