PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The death of a teacher in Southwest Washington has prompted questions about how school districts in the region report cases of COVID-19.
On Sept. 23, Barnes Elementary School 4th-grade teacher Karen James told parents through a parent-teacher messaging app she tested positive for COVID-19 and she would be out of the classroom for a period of time.
By Monday, she was gone. Parents told KOIN 6 News they got a phone call from the principal at Barnes Elementary to inform them of her death.
In a message to KOIN 6 News, the Kelso School District said it’s not able to comment on Karen James’ cause of death out of respect and to protect her privacy. But district officials said in instances where someone tests positive, the district immediately communicates with staff, students and/or families who are identified as close contacts of a positive individual.
In Oregon, schools are not required to follow recommendations from the Oregon Department of Education when it comes to reporting cases of COVID-19.
The ODE said it only provides resources and guidance, including examples of how districts can respond in different scenarios. For example, if a student or staff member tests positive, they ask that schools first send the student home, then begin the contact tracing process, then notify exposed individuals. This doesn’t mean that the entire school will be notified; depending on the district, it could just be certain bus routes or classrooms.
But choosing to follow the ODE’s guidelines is up to each district. KOIN 6 News reached out to several districts, each of which confirmed that parents are being notified if there is a close-contact situation involving someone who tests positive for COVID-19.
However, several Oregon districts, including Beaverton and Hillsboro, said they would withhold the cause of death due to privacy concerns if faced with a situation like the one involving the Kelso School District teacher.
Most of the larger Oregon districts — such as Portland, Beaverton, Salem-Keizer, Tigard and Gresham — have launched online dashboards that provide weekly updates. They break down cases at schools, how many students and staff members are quarantined or isolated, or even entire classrooms.
Hillsboro is still working on its COVID-19 dashboard and anticipates having it up and running within about a week.
COVID-19 dashboards by school district: