spotswood

The school closed because of three possible COVID-19 cases among staff members.

Spotswood Elementary School closed early last week because of three possible COVID-19 cases among the staff. As of Sept. 23, only one of the three tests conducted has been positive. 

In a letter to parents of in-person students on the Spotswood Elementary School website, Deb Cook, the principal of Spotswood Elementary, wrote that an employee with probable COVID-19 symptoms and two employees with possible symptoms came forward on Sept. 13. The letter states that the Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ central office and the Virginia Department of Health advised Spotswood to close for seven days while they waited for more information on the possible cases.

While the school was closed, in-person students were expected to continue their online learning, the letter states. 

“We ask our staff to have open and honest conversations about what's going on health-wise,” Cook said, “Once the information got to me from that person, I then passed it on directly to our chief operating officer... and then from there we just work in tandem through [the chief operating officer], through Dr. Richards as well working with the Virginia Department of Health.”

Michael Richards, the division superintendent, said that the first employee to notice symptoms did the “right thing” by staying home when they began feeling sick earlier in the week. On Sept. 13 that employee reported that their doctor believed they had COVID-19 and were going to be tested, Richards said.

That employee’s test came back positive.

Richards said HCPS has two protocols focused on stopping the spread of the coronavirus, which are mitigation and containment. 

“Mitigation, that’s where we have mandatory mask requirements, we’ve got social distancing going on, hygiene… washing hands, practicing good sneezing and coughing… and of course cleaning and sterilization of schools,” Richards said. “That’s when you’re trying to prevent cases.”

Richards said Spotswood went into containment protocol Sept. 13 when the probable case of COVID-19 was reported. 

“Containment is really about contact tracing and testing, and also advice from the medical community,” Richards said. 

Richards said the Central Shenandoah Health Department began contact tracing after the positive test was received. This helped determine the next set of steps for opening the school, Richards said. 

“If the contact tracing shows that the first employee was positive was in one classroom… we would then quarantine everyone in that classroom for 14 days, and open the rest of the school, so that kind of gives you an example of potential next steps,” Richards said. 

This is the second time HCPS has used a containment protocol.

“We had to do it once at the central office, and we’re doing it now at Spotswood,” Richards said. “In the case of the central office, we had two employees test positive over the summer, and given the nature of the work in the central office the next step, in that case, was to close the office down for two weeks... Each case is different.”

Cook said the school reopened Sept. 21, although not all in-person students would return to the classroom immediately. 

“Out of preponderance of caution, we had two classrooms in which we had face to face students… we’ve asked them to remain quarantined, those individuals, because the individuals that were working within that space,” Cook said, “So those classrooms are coming back online on Thursday.” 

Cook said that her faculty and staff are enthusiastic about returning to the classroom. 

“I think that we’re excited… there is a little bit of trepidation as well because everything is new and unknown,” Cook said “But I know that many of our teachers are choosing to work from their classrooms even though their students are virtual and they were excited to have an opportunity to be back in an instructional space that allows them to be present for their kids.”

Richards emphasized the importance of following the protocols that HCPS has put in place when dealing with the coronavirus for the rest of the school year. He said that they must continue to move forward every day and make the best decision with the data they have. 

“In a place like Harrisonburg, right now where the community transmission level is very high, I don’t think it’s unusual to have a case,” Richards said. “I think what’s important is that you do exercise the research based containment strategies, which we’re doing, and that’s how you keep people safe.“

Contact Ashlyn Campbell at campbeab@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.