Officials close Libby Elementary School after potential outbreak

by WILL LANGHORNE
The Western News | October 16, 2020 7:00 AM

School officials closed Libby Elementary School on Oct. 14 after learning an individual became infected with the coronavirus from within the building.

Superintendent Ron Goodman said health officials found the virus was spreading between school staff after an employee tested positive on Oct. 13. Though he did not give their title, Goodman said the individual had a “pretty impactful” job in the district.

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Libby Superintendent Ron Goodman and health department officials tested school staff for the coronavirus on Oct. 14 outside of the Libby Elementary School. Goodman closed the Libby elementary school on Oct. 14 after officials found a case of the virus was transmitted inside the building.

On the day of the closure, Goodman learned that another staff member tested positive for the virus. Custodians completed a deep clean of the school that morning.

In addition to the virus spreading within the elementary school, Goodman said he decided to close the building after realizing the district did not have the numbers to keep it open. He anticipated that too many employees would be in quarantine after the health department completed contact tracing to hold traditional classes.

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Libby Superintendent Ron Goodman and health department officials tested school staff for the coronavirus on Oct. 14 outside of the Libby Elementary School. Goodman closed the Libby elementary school on Oct. 14 after officials found a case of the virus was transmitted inside the building.

Despite the elementary school closure, classes will continue as normal at the Libby Middle High School, Goodman said.

Health officials tested around 40 staff members from the elementary school and around 20 from the middle high school on Oct. 14. Goodman said any decision regarding reopening the elementary school depended upon the results. Even if all the tests were to come back negative, however, Goodman said he anticipated that the elementary school would remain closed for the near future.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where we wouldn’t be closed two weeks from today,” he said on Oct. 14.

Goodman said he expected to receive the test results on Oct. 16.

Even before the closure, school officials were grappling with how to manage in-person classes while mitigating the spread of the virus. Andrew Steiger, elementary school principal, said health officials had quarantined around 58 students and five to six staff members last week. Speaking at an Oct. 12 school board meeting, Steiger said staff members were working to limit the mixing of students and were dedicating large amounts of time to cleaning efforts.

While he had worried that students might not comply with the school’s mask mandate, Steiger said that staff only had to repeatedly remind a few students to wear their face coverings.

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Libby Superintendent Ron Goodman and health department officials tested school staff for the coronavirus on Oct. 14 outside of the Libby Elementary School. Goodman closed the Libby elementary school on Oct. 14 after officials found a case of the virus was transmitted inside the building.

Educators at the Libby Middle High School have faced similar hurdles in managing in-person classrooms. At the Oct. 12 meeting, Principal Ruth Vanworth-Rogers reported that 52 students in the middle school and 19 in the high school were in quarantine as well as one employee.

Vanworth-Rogers said that there were 16 remote learners at the middle school and 27 at the high school. With excused absences added to the mix, 45 percent of the student body at the high school and 22 percent at the middle school were away from their desks on Oct. 12.

Vanworth-Rogers said staff members were working on ways to prevent quarantines such as keeping teachers distanced from students and reducing group work.

Instructors at both the middle high school and the elementary school have also struggled with maintaining remote learning curricula, according to administrators. Jim Germany, assistant principal of the Libby Middle High School, said only 15 of the school’s remote learners were passing all of their classes.

“The rest are failing most all classes,” Germany said. “We're at the point that they need to make an adjustment on their part.”

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Superintendent Ron Goodman closed the Libby Elementary School on Oct. 14 after officials found a case of the virus was transmitted inside the building.

Germany urged struggling students to come in for help during after school hours. For students who continue to have trouble, Germany said officials would be mailing them packets to let them know they needed to make a change.

Steiger said elementary school teachers have seen low participation rates from students working remotely. As of Oct. 12, the school had 69 remote learners. While many teachers put extra time into managing in-person and remote curricula, Steiger said they were frustrated by the lack of student involvement.

Troy school administrators have encountered similar challenges in dealing with coronavirus restrictions. After hearing from health officials on Oct. 14 that a high school student tested positive for the virus, Troy Public Schools announced the student — along with other students who were in close contact with them — were in quarantine. Officials said in a Facebook post that due to the district’s precautionary measures, few had to be quarantined by health officials.

On Oct. 8, the Troy school district announced that they were dropping to a more restrictive phase of their COVID-19 guidelines after two staff members tested positive for the virus. Previously, guidelines allowed students to move between classrooms in cohorts. Now each cohort is isolated in a classroom throughout the day with teachers rotating between the groups.