Wilson Elementary School

Someone at Wilson Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19 last week, triggering the quarantine of an entire second-grade class.

Given that the coronavirus pandemic is still active in Teton County, a case in the schools was perhaps unavoidable. It certainly was an eventuality administrators had been planning for.

“We had protocols in place, and our protocols worked,” said Charlotte Reynolds, district communications director. “We got the information we needed to be able to communicate to families within a really short period of time.”

On Monday, Wilson Principal Scott McDowell sent an email to parents explaining that the district had learned of the positive case over the weekend. Because of last week’s four-day schedule, the last time the class was together had been Sept. 3, so the 14-day quarantine started the following day.

That means the affected kids will be back in the classroom Sept. 21, since the final day of the quarantine will be a Friday, when students aren’t physically in school.

During quarantine, kids won’t get a two-week vacation; instead, they have switched to full-time virtual learning.

When the switch to digital school happened in the spring, kids and teachers were underprepared, having never used some of the systems, especially at the elementary school level.

Educators hope that isn’t the case now, because Fridays are intended to be opportunities to create digital literacy in students.

“Part of the rationale with Fridays being virtual is to help elementary kids specifically practice and learn how to participate virtually, to learn how to log into their iPads,” Reynolds said.

Wilson second-graders are not the only kids in the district under quarantine orders. Superintendent Gillian Chapman told the school board at its Wednesday meeting that 39 students — 26 in elementary schools and 13 in high school — were under quarantine, as well as seven staff members.

Siblings of quarantined students are also sent home, but they do not necessarily need to quarantine for 14 days. The kids who are close contacts of the case — in this instance, the Wilson second-graders — are to be tested. If they test negative, their siblings can go back to school, though close contacts must finish their quarantines.

The Teton County Health Department decides through contact tracing which students or teachers need to quarantine, whether because of exposure at school or in the community. That means the numbers Chapman shared may not be complete. “We’re relying on parents letting us know if their child is quarantined,” she said, “and I am begging for parents to please let us know.”

Though parents likely want information on who the case was or how high their children’s risk of exposure is, the district can’t provide much more information than it already has, Reynolds said. Student privacy laws and HIPAA regulations, which govern patient privacy, make it difficult for administrators to answer many questions.

However, educators want parents to understand that the situation will likely happen again, that it may be inevitable that more students and teachers will be quarantined over the course of the school year.

“A key piece of that is for everyone to understand that none of us knows when a situation like this is going to come up,” Reynolds said. “We all just need to be prepared, be as flexible as we can be, recognizing that this virus is outside of any of our control.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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