Middle, high school students return next week

Three people at Olympic View Elementary test positive for virus

Oak Harbor students in grades 7-12 will be allowed to attend hybrid in-person classes next week for the first time since school was canceled last March amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The hybrid model has half of the middle and high school students attending two days of in-person instruction in the morning while the other half are at home. Wednesday will be a distance-learning day for everyone. Then the second half of students will go to class while the others do distance learning. Everyone will do distance learning at home in the afternoons.

Middle and high school students will attend in-person classes for six hours per week.

Middle school students will go to school Feb. 8 for a “soft start,” Oak Harbor Public Schools Communications Officer Conor Laffey said in an email. Next week will be a time for students to ask questions about the curriculum and learn more about the hybrid instruction model.

High school students will return to campus on Feb. 9. They have already been attending orientations this week, Laffey said, to become familiar with the school.

The school board approved the school district’s decision matrix last month. It said older students could return if less than 3 percent of staff tested positive during a mandatory testing period, county COVID-19 case counts were less than 200 per 100,000 population, and it followed guidance from the state Department of Health and Island County Public Health.

The local public health department also had to provide a letter of assurance that it had enough testing and contact tracing capacity to adequately monitor the disease.

No staff for grades 7-12 tested positive during the mandatory testing period, according to Laffey. The district required all staff to be tested during the first week of February and has offered its own testing site at the high school.

Island County had a case rate of 117.9 per 100,000 population over a two-week period as of Feb. 2, according to state Department of Health data. That means all grades 7-12 can return to hybrid in-person classes. If the case rate was between 200-350 per 100,000, then only grades 7-8 would be able to return. If the case rate was above 350 per 100,000, then reopening would have been delayed by two weeks.

Students could be sent home if the two-week case rate rises above the approved threshold. They could also be sent back to distance learning if there is a rapid increase in cases due to an outbreak; if the chain of transmission is longer than two generations of infection in a school; or if there are not enough staff due to illness to operate the school safely. Students would be sent home for two weeks or until there are enough healthy staff.

Each school — Oak Harbor High School, North Whidbey Middle School and HomeConnection — was required to present a COVID-19 safety plan at a previous school board meeting. The plans were largely similar and featured social distancing, face mask usage and daily health attestations.

Three people have tested positive in the school district’s pre-K through sixth grade population this year, Laffey said.

The younger grades have been in hybrid in-person classes since mid-October.

A staff member from Olympic View Elementary tested positive on Jan. 21, according to Laffey.

The person was the first staff member to be found positive through the school district’s voluntary weekly testing. The person was asymptomatic but was already quarantining because someone else in their household tested positive.

Two students also tested positive at Olympic View Elementary. Laffey said the cases were unrelated to the staff member.

One student tested positive on Feb. 2 but had not been on campus since Jan. 26. The student’s cohort went into quarantine and finished on Feb. 6. The staff member in the cohort tested negative and none of the students developed symptoms, Laffey said.

The second student tested positive on Feb. 4. Laffey said the case was unrelated to the other student. The student’s cohort will be quarantining until Feb. 16.

The school district conducted additional optional testing at the elementary school.

Previously, a staff member at the Hand-in-Hand Early Learning Center and HomeConnection program tested positive in December. Two students at North Whidbey Middle School tested positive in October and December.