COVID continues to dominate classroom life; nearly 100 Denair students and staff test positive in first month

Sept. 12, 2021

Contact: Terry Metzger, Ed.D., superintendent
(209) 632-7514, ext. 1202 or

When the school year began a month ago, there was widespread excitement among Denair’s 1,300 students and staff that after two years of instruction dramatically affected by the COVID pandemic this year would be different.

Unfortunately, that hope has not reflected the reality in the Denair Unified School District and many others across the country, where COVID has yet again dominated the education conversation. The focus on reading, writing and arithmetic has had to compete with quarantines, contact tracing and testing of a different kind. 

“It’s been very stressful for everyone,” said Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger. “I think part of it is not knowing what’s going to happen from day-to-day. Also, in the spring and over the summer, we were all so hopeful for a more ‘normal’ school year, but it’s been anything but normal.”

At the monthly Board of Trustees meeting Thursday night, Metzger shared some of the sobering statistics from the first four weeks of school:

  • 82 students have tested positive for COVID; 71 of them (all unvaccinated) got it somewhere other than at school.
  • Another 156 unvaccinated students were potentially exposed to someone on campus who tested positive, requiring them to be placed in at-home or modified quarantines (where they could still can attend school as long as they are asymptomatic). Seventy-eight unvaccinated students were exposed off-campus, also requiring some level of quarantine. And 38 vaccinated students were exposed, but because they exhibited no symptoms, they did not have to quarantine.
  • 13 teachers have tested positive, 34 were exposed to someone who tested positive but didn’t have to quarantine because they are vaccinated and 31 who are unvaccinated were exposed and had to quarantine for up to 10 days.
  • 65% of staff are fully vaccinated and another half-dozen have had at least one dose, Metzger said. It is unknown how many students eligible for the shot (those 12 and older) are vaccinated.

All those statistics have had a dramatic impact on how education has been delivered. Substitute teachers, predictably, are in high demand and short supply. Contact tracing for anyone who might have been exposed is a 40-hour-a-week job for multiple people. Teachers are sending assignments home for quarantined students so they can stay current on what’s being taught in class. The staff is so short-handed that Metzger herself pulled a yard duty assignment recently to help out.

“Every school in the district has had multiple positive cases, with students and staff in quarantine,” she said. “It’s affected every campus.”

Sadly, there is no let up in sight. Metzger shared the example of one high school student involved in athletics who recently tested positive for COVID. It was determined that the student had 26 “close contacts” – people who had been within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes. Of those, 14 had been unmasked so had to quarantine at home, seven were masked so could still come to campus on a modified quarantine with twice-a-week testing and five were unmasked but vaccinated and asymptomatic, meaning they didn’t have to quarantine.

“We had to gather information on all 26 people, then determine which category they fit in,” Metzger said. 

Still, she complimented students for their willingness to follow the COVID protocols, including wearing masks at all times indoors and, more and more, even when they are outside.

“The kids are doing a great job with their masks. They don’t want to be quarantined,” Metzger said. “We are seeing a lot more kids — and staff — wearing their masks all the time. I think everyone is just being more cautious and aware because it’s feeling much more ‘real’ than last year.”

The district will continue to lean on the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency, as well as state and federal authorities, for COVID-related safety guidance, Metzger said. Meanwhile, continued vigilance by everyone is the only way to get through the current situation, she said.

“It’s critical that people stay home when sick, even if the symptoms seem mild or not COVID-related,” Metzger cautioned. “We’ve had a number of students whose parents were sure the symptoms were ‘just allergies’ but tested just in case, and the student’s results came back positive for COVID. We are certainly seeing that the virus affects people very differently and you just don’t know how hard it’s going to hit you or your family.”

In other action, trustees:

  • Heard a lengthy report on a long-range facilities master plan from two representatives of Caldwell Flores Winters, an Emeryville firm hired by the district to assess potential building needs for the next decade. The three-phase plan could cost as much as $35 million and include upgrades on every campus — new ag and science facilities at Denair High School, science labs at Denair Middle School, replacement of long-term portable buildings, and five new TK and kindergarten classrooms and a staff restroom at Denair Elementary Charter Academy. Board members could vote to adopt the facilities master plan as soon as October. It would be paid for through a combination of developer fees, state and federal grants, and possibly a new school bond.
  • Unanimously approved the renaming of the high school athletic facilities as the “Denair Lions Sports Complex” in recognition of the significant and generous contributions of the Denair Lions Club over many years. A metal sign is expected to be erected and dedicated Sept. 17 in the football parking lot before that night’s home game against Ripon Christian.
  • Appointed Melissa Cherry, Andrea Bennett and Marcia Smith to the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee. All are parents of students attending Denair schools. One vacancy remains on the seven-member panel. It needs to be filled by a community member representing taxpayers.
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