Potomac School goes remote

POTOMAC - By Monday afternoon, Sept. 20, Potomac School received notice of positive COVID test results from students in each of its six cohort groups. Principal John Rouse said all students were sent home and virtual instruction will begin Tuesday.

At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, Potomac School established classes as cohort groups. They are prekindergarten; kindergarten; first grade; second and third grade combined; fourth and fifth grade combined; and sixth, seventh and eighth combined.

The cohort groups stayed together and do not mix with other classes when they eat lunch, go to recess and have physical education classes. The intent was to limit interaction and reduce exposure should a student or staff test positive. Masks have been optional since last spring and continued into the 2021-2022 school year.

On Sunday night, Potomac School released that they had a positive case in one of the elementary classrooms. Due to not all of the students wearing face masks, that class was quarantined and would start remote learning Monday.

The Board policy currently states that since masks are not universal, if there is a positive case in a classroom, the entire class, regardless if a handful of students were masked, will be quarantined until the County Health Department provided guidance that the students can return to the classroom. The Health Department provided a decision tree based on vaccination status, symptomatic and test results to help set quarantine requirements.

By 1 p.m. Monday, there were additional positive case confirmations in all classrooms.

“As a result, we contacted parents and sent our students home to begin the required quarantine process dictated by the Missoula City-County Health Department and CDC,” Rouse wrote in an email.

At the emergency board meeting Monday, Sept. 20 Rouse said, “We are where we are today because of the interpretation that I have made based on our policies and what I believe are directions from our board and the information that I’m getting most recently directly from the deputy director of the Missoula City-County Health Department.”

Chair Courtney Hathaway added, “Our current understanding of how the Health Department guidelines and CDC recommendations are worded is that we sent the entire school home today because we had at least one positive COVID case in every cohort group in our school. In my opinion, that completely negates the whole stated goal of our school board from the beginning which was to keep our kids in school and in in-person learning as much as possible.”

Potomac School will continue virtual learning through live streaming instruction until they can return to face-to-face instruction. Rouse said this could be as soon as Monday, Sept. 27 depending on the last day of exposure to the positive individual. For some students, the last day of exposure was last Thursday.

At an emergency meeting, the board discussed a universal masking mandate. The board voted 1 – 4 against adding an amendment to the 1900 Series that would institute universally masking for students, staff and visitors to Potomac School. Chair Courtney Hathaway voted in favor of the amendment with Jayme Fairfield, Kyle Kelley, Cliff Vann and Wes Mitchell dissenting.

The board will continue the discussion about revising the Return to School Plan and the 1905 Series after gathering more information from legal council, other experts and the community at a special meeting Monday, Sept. 27.

** This was updated Tuesday, Sept. 21 following the emergency school board meeting Monday night.


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