PHS auditorium
The PHS auditorium serves as a place for students to study during free periods and also as a spot where they can eat their lunch. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Upon reopening classrooms to students in recent weeks, educators had to know that it would be impossible to keep COVID-19 off campus. The coronavirus has indeed made an appearance with a handful of cases heading into this week.

Susan Halliday, Philomath superintendent of schools, said at Monday night’s School Board meeting that there were eight COVID-19 cases — three at the primary school, three at the high school and two at the middle school.

“Since the school year began, we have had COVID cases come through in the school district and they have been maybe one here, one there,” Halliday said. “We’ve taken some limited in-person small groups and quarantined those groups out of need.”

The number of people in quarantine — again, as of April 19 — added up to 44 with 27 of those involving Clemens Primary. Halliday did not indicate if those infected or in quarantine were staff or students. Student and health privacy laws prohibit the school district from offering too much information.

“We do have to be thoughtful in terms of the needs to know and the information that we release,” Halliday said. “There are a number of people that would like to know who and how much and those kinds of things and there’s just some information that we can’t share with everybody.”

The county has approved of the Philomath School District’s approach to limiting the spread of the virus.

“Benton County Health Department has reviewed our protocols and says you’re doing the right thing and says we’re in a pandemic and this is part of it,” Halliday said. “It’s kind of like when you get a lot of students together and staff together and you see more colds, you see more the flu. We are still sitting very good in terms of our case rates here and what’s happening in the school.”

A Philomath High School classroom sitting empty Thursday afternoon illustrates how students are distanced from one another. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Halliday said there has been one common question from parents:

“At what point would we say, ‘no it’s probably not a good idea to have all of our students back?’” Halliday said. “We’re listening very strongly to what Benton County Health Department has to say and right now, they’re telling us you’re good to move forward.”

Other questions have been raised on the length of quarantines. Various factors come into play, including whether an individual tested positive or negative, and if it was positive, when contact occurred to trigger the beginning of a quarantine period.

“It’s quite a science — we’ve been on speed dial to Benton County Health Department,” Halliday said. “It’s really about following our protocols and being thoughtful in knowing that we have to do our best and know some things may crop up.”

Halliday added that she feels good about phone calls that staff members have been making to families, saying “It’s been a nice way to be able to make sure there’s information and questions get answered.”

The hope among educators and the community is that COVID-19 rates will decline, especially with vaccinations opening up to those as young as 16. It was announced earlier this week that Benton County will remain in the high risk category at least through May 6.

Halliday said she has encouraged staff to ask questions to make sure it’s very clear about what’s happening on campus. She also extends that openness about communication to families.

“We encourage that if there’s questions, please ask, because that’s the way that we’re going to make sure that everybody gets the information they need,” Halliday said. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to be open and share with one another.”

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