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AMS students sent into quarantine

ASHLAND — Brandon Ross’s daughter, a seventh-grader at Ashland Middle School, had been back in class on campus for two days when she was sent home for 14 days of quarantine last week.

Ross said he was notified April 6 that a student in one of his daughter’s classes tested positive for COVID-19 April 2, sending her into a homebound quarantine group. According to Ashland School District executive assistant Jacqueline Schad, two positive cases were reported.

School protocols were followed, according to the district, but the incident awakened frustration among some parents made dizzy by ever-changing iterations of schooling in the era of a pandemic.

Schad said a teacher saw students “exhibiting mild non-primary symptoms while in class” and separated them from other students for assessment by a nurse. After the assessment, AMS contacted their parents by phone with information about next steps, and the two symptomatic students were sent home, she said.

“The actions aligned with our Ready Schools, Safe Learners blueprint, and our process for having students with symptoms sent to our required ‘isolation’ area for assessment was followed,” Schad said.

In a April 5 email , addressed to AMS parents and guardians, Principal Steve Retzlaf and Associate Principal Katherine Holden said Jackson County Public Health determined some school community members were exposed to the virus and directed to quarantine for two weeks. Quarantined students will continue instruction through distance learning, the message said.

“Fortunately, the exposures are not a result of any failure by students or staff to follow AMS’ COVID-19 guidelines, and we are grateful that the overwhelming majority of onsite students will be able to continue to attend school this week,” they wrote. “We know that many of you are anxious to have your student return to campus fully, but this is a good example of why we are proceeding carefully at AMS to bring students back to campus as safely and responsibly as possible.”

School nurse Belinda Brown said parents who were not contacted directly by phone and email about the cases were not exposed, based on a contact investigation through public health. The individuals who tested positive will not be permitted on campus until a minimum of 10 days have passed since symptoms began.

“This can happen with very short or no notice,” according to a newsletter issued to parents. “It is important for families to have a backup plan.”

Ross said he found the time between a positive test and notification to parents concerning, as his student — whose hybrid schedule places her on campus Thursdays and Fridays — may have been exposed April 2 and carried the risk home to their family without knowing.

“I got a call that I needed to come pick her up [Tuesday], and the nurse walked her out and said that she was part of a group that was exposed, so she’s in a quarantine group and she won’t be allowed on campus for 14 days or allowed to participate in any school sports,” recalled Ross, whose daughter runs cross-country at AMS.

Explaining the passage of time, Schad said students first need to be tested and contact tracing completed before the county issues a quarantine directive.

Ross said all the parents with whom he has contact share frustration and disappointment with the district sending students back to school the Monday after spring break, while Jackson County reported COVID-19 cases on the rise.

AMS initially planned to open March 29 based on lower case metrics in the county, and complied with Gov. Kate Brown’s order for schools to offer a hybrid or on-campus learning option, Schad said.

Ross said he had only begun to see a rhythm developing among students, after a disastrous end to the last academic year. Come spring, teachers were asked to present another adapted curriculum to accommodate a “funky hybrid system,” tangled with complex logistical considerations for families when faced with disruptions like positive COVID-19 cases and mandatory quarantine, he said.

Navigating hybrid schedules, transportation, extracurricular activities, and, most recently, outstanding questions about quarantine protocol for the family, have caused significant stress and confusion, he said.

“Let’s just call it a school year, let’s call it a miserable experiment with virtual learning, let’s acknowledge the legitimacy of the concern that all of us educators and parents had about excessive screen time and the impact it has had on our children, and let’s pull the plug and call it summer, and come back once we’re all vaccinated,” Ross said.

School community members who test positive for COVID-19 should inform district nurse Belinda Brown at belinda.brown@ashland.k12.or.us.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.