PORT ANGELES — Parents will be notified when a case of COVID-19 is confirmed in the schools, Port Angeles School District Superintendent Marty Brewer said as he discussed the district’s new case dashboard.
The district had recorded zero COVID-19 cases through Monday afternoon. The district dashboard is available at portangelesschools.org.
“It does two things for us, dispels the myth that our students are not on campus … (and) the dashboard is a good way to refer community members with concerns that our schools are closed that they are coming back in a methodical way,” Brewer said Thursday at a school board meeting.
“It also will give us the ability to track confirmed cases in our schools and also quarantine in our schools.
“Why we put this together is the concern about how rumors get spread in our community. As soon as there’s one, there will be talk that we have an outbreak at a school. This is where you go. This will be updated every day.”
Brewer also discussed the immediate steps that would follow a confirmed COVID-19 case in the schools.
“One thing I need to educate our community on is that a single positive case in a school doesn’t close the school,” Brewer said.
“A perfect example of that: There was a positive with a child care provider this summer. The reaction was to close the entire program down for 14 days. In the end, because of social distancing, because of masks, because of cleaning procedures, nobody else got it.”
Brewer said students would be given a letter outlining what would come next.
“The day we get a confirmed positive, everyone will get a letter saying we have a case in the schools,” Brewer said.
“It won’t articulate a grade level. If it is a student or staff member, and that’s out of respect and out of laws relating to privacy and health.
“I know there will be a lot of scrutiny around needing to know what grade, needing to know who. We will not be able to share that. We will share that we have a positive in School X, and we are working with the health department on quarantining [close contacts].
“That’s why it is so important about being methodical in rolling out our grades. If we end up with a positive, we do the contract tracing. We won’t have many quarantines, and we won’t have the closure of a classroom or a school.”
Brewer said he asked Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank what would trigger COVID-related school closures.
“Two reasons: the community rate goes above 75 cases per 100,000, and is there community transmission within the school, if we can’t contain it within the school, or if it is traveling in a classroom, the school will be closed.
“The work we are doing, that’s been proven to work, will save our schools and keep us open, and that’s the ultimate goal here. There’s nobody in this room, in this community, who wants to see them opened and then turned back to a closure.”
Administrators also said the number of Port Angeles School District students signed up to receive free and reduced lunches has dipped this school year, potentially impacting need-based funding down the line.
Reduced school enrollment is the reason for a decline in free and reduced registrations, said district finance and operations director Kira Acker.
District-wide, 50.2 percent of Port Angeles students are participating in the program so far this year, with 1,414 students eligible for free lunches and another 341 qualifying for reduced lunch out of a total student population of 3,493.
A total of 52.29 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch in 2019-20.
District staff continue to promote signing up for the program because enrollment impacts school funding.
“Funding for our Title [I] and LAP [Learning Assistance Program] programs are based on a three-year [free and reduced percentage] average,” Acker said.
“That’s why we want to keep our numbers up as high as we can. We are right at the cusp there and worried a little about Hamilton [Elementary] because we didn’t get as many applications there.
“We want to continue to keep that three-year average so we can get that Title funding for the elementary schools and Lincoln,” Acker said.
“We’ve seen a drop in free and reduced, but that’s mainly because of the drop in enrollment.
“Wendy [Brown] has done an amazing job continuing to capture all of those free and reduced applications, and staff has done a great job in continuing to explain to people that, yes, we are receiving free meals and will receive free meals all year long, but we still need your applications.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week an extension of a nationwide flexibility that allow free school meals for all children throughout the 2020-21 school year.
States receive federal grant funding with schools ranked by the state according to the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Schools with 75 percent of students in poverty are automatically allocated Title I funding. Schools with 35 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch are eligible to receive Title I funding.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected].