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HELMSBURG, Ind.– Helmsburg Elementary School will be closed for the remainder of the week because of COVID-19-related absences, school officials announced.

Brown County Schools Superintendent Emily Tracy said more than 20% of students at Helmsburg Elementary have been exposed to COVID-19.

“It could be kiddos waiting for test results, and they’re out until they get their results, it could be kids that have been quarantined because of close contacts, it could be positive cases, it could be symptomatic,” Tracy said.

With such a large number of students already out, Tracy said their COVID protocols directed them to close down the school for the rest of the week.

”Our very first priority is to keep students and staff as healthy and safe as we can while they’re in our care,” she said. “I understand that the precautions aren’t always convenient or enjoyable, but they are necessary.”

As for how many positive cases there are at Helmsburg Elementary, Tracy said she couldn’t say.

“I can say we do not have a lot of positive cases. What we do have are a lot of symptomatic students,” she said.

Roughly 270 students go to Helmsburg Elementary, meaning about 50 students were exposed to COVID-19 in some way.

With the entire school sent home for the week, this left parents scrambling to figure out what to do.

”I had to spend time making all these phone calls and text messages and rearranging things, and I don’t know exactly when I’ll be back to work,” said parent Anna Hofstetter. “I get paid by the hour, and so if I don’t work, I don’t make money.”

Hofstetter said she doesn’t envy the postion Brown County school leaders are in.

”It’s got to be a balancing act of what’s healthy COVID wise, but also what’s healthy intellectually and socially for the kids,” she said.

For Naomi Lukas’s daughter, Eden, she didn’t even make it through her first five days of kindergarten. Lukas said Eden loves school and did not take it well when she found out it would be closed for the rest of the week.

“She instantly starts crying her little eyes out,” said Lukas. “It was sad.”

The decision to keep all kids at home comes on the heels of rapidly changing mask guidelines for the school system.

Tracy said they started the school year on Wednesday recommending masks, but by the next Monday morning, they had already changed that to a requirement. Just days later, Helmsburg Elementary had to be closed due to COVID-19 spread.

Tracy said this is definitely a reality check for how transmissive the virus still is.

“At the end of school last year, there were many districts across the state, and I’m assuming across the country, that thought, ‘This is it, we’re over, we finished, we crossed that finished line,’ and it is evident we did not,” she said.

Tracy said the school will go through a deep cleaning Wednesday night and on Thursday.

“Every classroom is virtually flipped upside down between books and bookshelves and desks and inside of desks and the legs and arms of chairs,” she said.

While students are out of class, they’ll either be learning virtually or from a packet.

Hofstetter is hoping for the best out of their current situation.

”At the end of the day, if we can all quarantine for a bit and nip this in the bud, then maybe we can get back to some kid of normalcy,” she said.

Students and staff are set to return on Monday, Aug. 16 unless there are new positive cases causing additional absences.

Brown County is listed in the Yellow category of the state’s COVID-19 county map. Data from the state shows the county has a 7-day positivity rate of 13.25% for all tests.