Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are beginning to surface at schools throughout East Idaho and many local school administrators are stepping up their efforts to protect students and staff.
Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 announced on Friday that it will be reporting on COVID-19 cases at the district’s schools every Friday at https://www.sd25.us/Content2/1282.
District 25 said that since the start of the school year Chubbuck Elementary School and Century High School have each had a single student test positive, and Tyhee Elementary School and Highland High School have each had two students test positive. Tendoy Elementary School, Washington Elementary School, Wilcox Elementary School and Franklin Middle School have each had a single staff member test positive. No active COVID-19 cases have been reported at the other schools in the district since the start of the school year.
“Working in consultation with Southeastern Idaho Public Health, (District 25) will notify learners’ parents/guardians and employees whenever there is a close contact identified with a positive COVID-19 case at their school,” the district said in a press release.
District 25 has a mask policy in place for students and staff, and the school board recently voted to retain a hybrid learning model for the district’s middle schools and high schools, with groups of students alternating between learning from home and coming to school to limit class sizes.
Holy Spirit Catholic School in Pocatello has had one staff member and no students test positive for the virus thus far. The staff member had no contact with any students, Holy Spirit Principal Karianne Earnest said.
Joel Lovstedt, the principal of Connor Academy in Chubbuck, said his school experienced its first COVID-19 case on Thursday, when the parents of a student reported that their child was infected.
Officials with Grace Lutheran School in Pocatello confirmed they’ve had both students and teachers test positive but did not offer specific numbers. Grace Lutheran Executive Director Robert Raschke said his school remains in session five days a week and is following Southeastern Idaho Public Health guidelines.
“Should there be cases we work directly with the family and the impacted students to determine an alternate learning plan,” Raschke said. “They do the tracking and tracing at (Southeastern Idaho Public Health).”
Elsewhere in East Idaho, the Jefferson School District in Rigby has had nine staff members and nine students test positive. The district also ordered 150 students who had contact with the positive cases to stay home on Monday and Tuesday to isolate before returning to class on Wednesday.
These latest reports about COVID-19 cases at local schools follow previous announcements by the Idaho Science and Technology Charter School in Blackfoot, the Shoshone-Bannock Junior/Senior High School at Fort Hall, Idaho Falls School District 91, Bonneville School District 93, the College of Eastern Idaho and Idaho State University about confirmed coronavirus cases among students and staff and/or students and staff being ordered to self-isolate because of exposure to a positive case.
Maggie Mann, district director of Southeastern Idaho Public Health, said school districts have the autonomy to implement their own COVID-19 policies, and there are differences in local school districts’ plans based on their individual circumstances. She said local schools have been cooperative and she specifically credited School District 25 with being “very conscientious and responsive.”
“We have seen a couple of examples of when the virus is introduced in the school setting it can spread pretty quickly,” Mann added.
Mann said there haven’t been any cases yet of local school students contracting COVID-19 and getting extremely sick from the virus. In other parts of the state, however, a Boise student and two students from Twin Falls have been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19, she said.
The teachers at Holy Spirit attended a training at the start of the school year led by janitorial staff, where they learned to operate machines that sanitize classrooms with an antiseptic mist.
The teachers and Principal Earnest run the machines after school each day. It’s one of the many examples of new policies and new responsibilities added at Holy Spirit for the current school year to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Earnest said each of Holy Spirit’s classrooms is self contained so students don’t intermingle with other age groups. Clear shields have been installed on students’ desks to further limit transmission of COVID-19. Laura Sheridan, a first-grade teacher at Holy Spirit, decorated her students’ desks to look like Jeeps, each with a windshield, seeking to make the protective shields more fun and less scary.
“We’re trying to really help the kids to not be scared but to embrace all of these new safety things we’ve been doing,” Earnest said.
Since the health department elevated the local COVID-19 risk level earlier this month, Holy Spirit has contracted with a cleaning company to provide routine deep cleans of the school. Classes on Fridays are now offered in person only for students needing extra intervention or enrichment.
Lovstedt said Connor Academy has also canceled its usual in-person classes on Friday to facilitate a deep cleaning of the school in the wake of Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s recent elevation of Bannock County’s COVID-19 risk level from minimal to moderate.
“We were able to get five weeks of face-to-face learning in our school before we hit (the elevated risk level),” Lovstedt said. “I’m really grateful for that.”
Lovstedt said Connor Academy has started staggering the times that its students report to school and leave by half an hour to minimize the crowd of students congregating in the morning and afternoon.
Lovstedt said a handful of Connor Academy students have been asked to isolate at home due to contact with the student who tested positive.
Lovstedt also serves on the board of the Pocatello Community Charter School. In response to the elevation of the local risk level, PCCS implemented a hybrid learning model for all students that involves two days of in-person learning at school and three days of remote or online learning every week.
Southeastern Idaho Public Health continues to report large numbers of new COVID-19 infections on a daily basis. On Friday, the agency confirmed 69 new COVID-19 cases in Southeast Idaho, including 27 in Bannock County, 20 in Bingham County, three in Butte County, two in Caribou County, 10 in Franklin County, two in Oneida County and five in Power County.