PORTLAND, Ore. — On Thursday, more than 3,000 students in the Portland metro area stayed home from class after two schools announced large-scale quarantines this week.
“What's happening actually at Reynolds High School is that we had a few COVID cases with students. While we didn't have that many, the issue was the amount of students that we had to quarantine were a lot,” said Steve Padilla, assistant director of public relations and partnerships for the Reynolds School District.
He said out of precaution, and also because it would be too difficult for teachers to split up teaching in person and online, the decision was made to quarantine all of the roughly 2,600 students who attend Reynolds High. Next week they’ll start distance learning.
“No school today or tomorrow is to give the teachers time to prep for the distance learning and so we're giving them a couple days. The students all have their devices,” Padilla said.
Hundreds of Gladstone students under quarantine
20 miles away in the Gladstone School District, about 620 students are in quarantine after a staff member who was masked and vaccinated tested positive for COVID-19.
“Yesterday (Wednesday) due to widespread COVID-19 exposure at John Wetten Elementary, all of our students in grades one through five, have been put on quarantine,” said Leslie Robinette, spokesperson for the Gladstone School District.
“The quarantine happened, not because of COVID cases, but because of the exposure […] the staff member became aware of symptoms during the middle of the school day,” she said.
Robinette said the district is in contact with county health officials.
“This particular individual just happened to be in contact with a large number of students on a daily basis. Basically, the advice we got was that because adults carry a heavier viral load, they paid attention to the 6-foot rule rather than the 3-foot rule,” said Robinette, referencing the rule that students and staff must stay 3 feet apart to the extent possible.
She said Thursday and Friday will be spent distributing laptops and WiFi hotspots. Teachers will prepare, then distance learning starts next week.
Students at both Reynolds High School and John Wetten Elementary will go back to school in person after 10 days, on Sept. 27.
“It's an operational shutdown. We're changing up a few procedures so that way if it does happen in the future, we're better prepared and less students have to quarantine,” Padilla said.
Officials in both districts are working on getting meals to students who need them. Robinette said the Gladstone School Food Pantry is open weekly for families.
Both districts are also looking at additional ways to protect students and staff.
Robinette said all schools in the Gladstone School District will be getting upgraded filtration that’ll provide hospital-grade air quality. District officials are working on it now and plan to have it complete in the fall.
The Reynolds School District will be asking parents to voluntarily submit their student’s vaccination status.
“If we have the information that a student is fully vaccinated and if there is an outbreak, they won't have to necessarily be quarantined. So, because we don't know that now, we have to quarantine more students than we probably should,” said Padilla.
Additionally, Padilla said the district plans to improve seating charts in classrooms and on the bus. He said prior to the quarantine, he didn’t believe there were seating charts for buses.