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  • Robert Lathers

Portland Public Schools Earning High Grades for Handling of Coronavirus Cases

“We should be proud of the whole school system” Julie McNeilly Reynolds (parent)

Superintendent Will Heath had a busy Labor Day week-end calling parents and staff to inform them that four students in the Portland School System have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and are required to be quarantined. In addition, more than 50 other students were in direct contact with the four students long enough (less than 6’ for at least 15 minutes) to be potentially exposed and impacted by the virus. Consequently, all those students, who have been identified through the schools tracing protocol, will be required to quarantine for 14 days from the time of their last contact with any of the four infected students.

Heath told the Beacon that the Ionia County Health Department is the official point of contact for the schools to receive notification and identification of the infected students. Once that occurs, Heath puts the school’s coronavirus protocols in motion. This involves reviewing the identified students course list and extra-curricular activities. Then studying the classroom seating chart assignment to identify students who may have been within 6’ of the student for at least 15 minutes during the day. Heath also contacts teachers to review any activities in their classroom that may have exposed additional students. While there are cameras in the building that serve as a potential tool, Heath said that they have not had to use them at this point.

Once Heath finalizes the list of potentially exposed students then he and the building Principal call each parent to inform them that their child may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Parents are instructed that their student may not attend school for fourteen days from the time they had the last contact with a student who has been diagnosed with the virus. All quarantined students will then join their classes virtually. Additional follow-up will then occur by the Ionia County Health Dept.

“All of our parents have been understanding. They know the situation that the district is in. While this can be very emotional, the parents have been great!”, Heath said.

Heath shared with the Beacon that there is no established threshold of how many students will be quarantined before in-person classes are suspended. “It is more a matter of where the source of infection originates”, he said, “The cases so far have originated elsewhere in the community. That is not anyone’s fault. It can happen to any business or in any family. There is no blame to be assigned. The question we have to answer is what is the source, outside of or at the school?”

Heath had much praise for Portland School staff. “Virtual education is a huge task. Not every school has the ability to do it the way we are trying to do it. Students who need to quarantine can return to school and not have missed course content while they were at home.” Moving forward Heath reflected on the challenges of trying to implement team sports. “We will be looking at that next week.”

Portland school parents have taken to Facebook this weekend to express their appreciation for Portland School administration, teachers and staff. Annie Burns-Thorn posted, “I would just like to give a huge shout out to Portland Public Schools for doing such a great job, with literally everything, in these unusual times.” Angela Shinaver, who is running for the Portland School Board, posted, “I agree completely!! My son is in middle school and he seems more like his old self again! Also, in hearing how other districts that family members attend and how they are handling things I am VERY impressed with what PPS is doing!!!” Julie McNeilly Reynolds posted, “A shout out should also be given to William Heath, the Superintendent. He and his staff have done a wonderful job keeping everyone informed and on track with this. The plan they have laid out right down to the teachers has been awesome. We should be proud of the whole school system.”

Heath appreciates the support for the school but reminds parents to be vigilant and be sure that every morning to screen their children before they send them out the door. “Please make sure you DO NOT send your kids to school if they show any symptoms of the coronavirus”, Heath concluded.

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