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COVID jump returns OHS to online instruction

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | September 22, 2021 1:03 AM

OTHELLO — Othello School District officials announced Monday high school students would switch to online classes due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases at the school.

Classes started for the 2021-22 year in-person Aug. 27, but were to be online from Tuesday to at least through Oct. 1, officials said. Classes might return to limited in-person instruction by Oct. 4, but would be split into morning and afternoon sessions for at least two weeks.

“(There were) 15 active cases as of yesterday (Monday), last week it was five,” Ed Petersen, Othello School District director of public relations, wrote in an email to the Herald.

Othello School District Superintendent Pete Perez said in a press release district officials made the decision out of an abundance of caution.

“We were really hoping to avoid this day,” Perez wrote. “Unfortunately, the rapid increase in the number of active COVID cases also has led to a large number of close contacts who must quarantine.”

Perez wrote it’s the rate of increase, not so much the number of cases, that influenced the district’s move.

“This transition isn’t really about the number of active cases,” Perez wrote. “But we are seeing a rapid rise in the last week, which is leading to a very large number of close contacts, and we run the risk of not being able to monitor and test those contacts.”

Students at all other Othello schools, including McFarland Middle School and the district’s four elementary schools, will remain in all-day, in-person classes.

Petersen wrote in the release it’s more difficult to keep groups of kids together and contained at OHS than it is at MMS or the elementary schools.

“Because students at the high school are more mobile and contact more peers during the day, each active case can lead to a much higher number of close contacts,” Petersen wrote.

If the levels of COVID-19 activity drop, the morning and afternoon class schedule at the high school would start Oct. 4, and continue through at least through Oct. 18. Full-time, in-person instruction could resume after Oct. 18 if conditions warrant.

Athletic practices, games and club activities will continue, Perez wrote, following guidelines established by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA).

“We will monitor them closely and make decisions on an individual team or club basis,” Perez wrote.

District officials are planning to implement testing when students return, Perez wrote. Details of the testing will be announced.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.