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East Butler talks COVID-19 policies

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After a lengthy discussion at its most recent school board meeting, East Butler Public Schools decided to stay the course on its COVID-19 procedures.

The district was forced to call off school the last two days of the first week in November. The district's policy is to close the school for sanitizing if 11% or more of the student body -- a portion equal to 31 students -- is out of school due to illness. On the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 3, the district hit that 11% threshold.

East Butler schools opened again on Monday, Nov. 8, but at the school board meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 10, Superintendent Mike Eldridge said the district has continued to hover around 30 kids out with illness.

At the meeting, board members brought up the question of adjusting the district's 11% shutdown threshold. At 8%, Eldridge said Columbus Public Schools has a lower threshold than East Butler uses, while other districts use a cutoff between 18% and 25%. In the end, the board decided to stick with 11%.

Most East Butler community members at the meeting seemed to agree that COVID-19 isn't going away and that the issue now is figuring out how to live with it -- but there were a lot of different ideas about how to do that.

Some families and staff members want to see strict mask requirements implemented in the schools. Others feel that more social distancing and sanitizing is the way to go. Still more support changes in the policies for keeping sick kids and their family members home.

At the meeting, several parents also asked for clarification about the district's illness policies. Confusion about the policies, particularly the rules on sending and keeping kids home. The primary concern there -- and with the two-day early November school closure, which was announced less than 24 hours before it went into effect, seemed to be the difficulty of arranging child care for kids who have to stay home.

East Butler students who test positive for COVID-19 are required to stay home for at least 10 calendar days, and may return to school once they have been symptom free -- without help from medicine -- for 24 hours. Students experiencing two or more COVID-19 symptoms must stay home until they have been symptom-free -- without medicine -- for 24 hours.

"We encourage testing, but will not require it," Eldridge told the Banner-Press in an email on Monday, Nov. 15.

In the Nov. 15 email, Eldridge also clarified that family members of sick students or staff are allowed to come to school if there is a positive COVID-19 case in their household. However, those family members are encouraged to wear masks while in East Butler school buildings.

If three or more students in an elementary school classroom have confirmed COVID-19 cases, everyone in the class must wear masks for 10 calendar days.

"Once the 10 days is up, if the number is still above three they would continue for another 10 days. But if it's below three, they take the masks off," Eldridge told the Banner-Press in an interview on Thursday, Nov. 11.

At the East Butler Secondary School, 212 S. Madison St. in Brainard, masks are required for the entire building if there are six or more COVID-19 cases.

Eldridge said sanitizing procedures are the same as last year, but the district has not been enforcing social distancing. East Butler's illness policies are comparable to those of nearby school districts.

At the meeting, East Butler Secondary School Principal Mark Cidlik said students and staff at Wahoo Public Schools may still come to school if one of their family members has tested positive for COVID-19, but are required to wear a mask for 10 days -- otherwise, masks are optional in Wahoo.

"For family members of COVID-positive students … Aquinas said they are allowed to come -- and (the school will) monitor (the student's) symptoms -- and are not required to wear a mask," East Butler's Elementary School Principal Shawn Biltoft said at the meeting. "Shelby said they can come as long as they have no symptoms and are not required to wear masks, but it's encouraged."

Biltoft said the normal illness policies at Aquinas Catholic Schools and Shelby-Rising City Public Schools line up with East Butler's, insofar as sending kids home if they have a temperature -- 100 degrees or higher -- or are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea. Like East Butler, those districts also require students to be symptom-free for 24 hours before returning.

Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach her via email at


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