Ridgway rides out quarantine

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Shawnn Row waited by his computer Tuesday morning, a Zoom window open and ready for students to pop in with questions.

Instead of walking up to his desk or raising their hands, they would click to a link to ask questions or share their screen to show their work.

Row, who teaches seventh and uth grade humanities classes at Ridgway Secondary School, is currently in quarantine after a student in one of his classes tested positive for COVID-19. It’s the first time a teacher has been isolated after being exposed to the coronavirus by a student, Principal Russell Randolph said, the latest domino effect of a high school Halloween party that’s kept dozens of students out of school.

More than 40 students - nearly half the student population - were quarantined after a student who attended a Halloween party and a volleyball practice tested positive. Most of those students have now returned to class, but nine more students are still in quarantine this week because of subsequent exposures, Randolph said.

Another volleyball player, who did not attend the party but was exposed at practice, later tested positive. The team was pulled out of class at 9 a.m., as soon as the school learned of the confirmed exposure, but by that time, Row and six students in his junior humanities class had also been exposed. That class was unusually small because most other students had attended the party and were already quarantined at home, Randolph said.

“Because of the off-campus event, the girl who was at volleyball got exposed, and then her exposure exposed the six who had not gone to the Halloween event,” Randolph said.

The positive student had also attended an off-season basketball practice, and three more students who were exposed there are currently in quarantine, too.

“That’s why you have to quarantine as soon as you know, because of the possibility of a domino effect,” Randolph said.

For now, Row is teaching a hybrid course to his junior class: most of his students have completed their two-week quarantine and returned to in-person class, while he and the others are working and learning from home. Another teacher supervises the in-person students, and he’s available to answer questions over Zoom like he would in the classroom.

“It’s kind of weird trying to talk to both of them,” he said. It was easier teaching when he was in the classroom and many students were online, though that still lacked the in-person interactions with students. The timing, however, was lucky: his students are working on end-of-unit essays, so they have time for independent work during class. The district started preparing for the possibility of moving between in-person and virtual learning this summer, which has made the transition smoother.

“I’ve been using Schoology since day 1,” Row said. The new online platform is where students see and submit their assignments, “so we all know how to do it, and they can’t use the excuse that ‘I don’t know what to do.” Row can look at their work and make comments in real time through Google Docs, as he did earlier this year before needing to quarantine.

Another seventh grade humanities teacher is also checking in with his students from that class, “so they still have that in-person outlet,” he said. His middle school outdoor education class, which is a combination of physical education and health, is also being covered by other teachers for now.

For the most part, students are taking the online work seriously, Row said. “I feel like the kids understand how to do the online part and that they’re being held accountable,” he said. “Any time a kid goes into quarantine, I think the first day or two feels like a vacation, and then it feels like they have to step up and log in.”

But while the technology has worked so far, it’s frustrating missing the daily connections with students. “It doesn’t feel like the real thing,” Row said. “I can’t read people’s emotions, I can’t see what they’re actually working on as easily. Usually, if a kid’s having a bad day, I can sense that right away. Now the human element is taken out of it a little bit.”

“But thankfully, it’s hopefully just for two weeks, and it’s not the entire school,” he said. “Since this is the first time it’s happened this year, hopefully everyone can learn from it and we won’t have to do shutdowns or partial shutdowns at all, or too much more often.”

Randolph said he thinks students are more aware of the consequences of their actions as a result of the recent exposures and quarantine procedures, describing them as “appreciative” and “apologetic.”

“Through a poor decision, I think they’ve learned a lot,” he said. “It sort of makes them more aware and better neighbors, and that’s how they’ve responded.”

“I feel that this event, which happened two weeks ago now, really was a lesson. We did everything right in school, everything was going well,” Randolph said. “We had no situations at the Secondary School, staff and students had been safe. And yet, we can’t be around 24/7, and decisions that everyone makes outside of school affect all of us. I think our student body has learned from that.”