An Edmonds school is the first in Snohomish County to shut down this fall because of rising COVID cases. Madrona K-8 currently has 26 active cases among students and another 174 students in quarantine because they were in close contact with the sick children. Madrona will not reopen until Nov. 1.
Edmonds School District Alert
“Our parents are sad, our kids are sad,” said Molly Tobias, chair of the parent group at Madrona. “I heard about a couple of kids crying when they got the news,” she added. Tobias has two children at Madrona, and she said her middle schooler is pretty unhappy, asking his mother, “what was the point of me being vaccinated if I can’t go to school?”
“We want our kids to be in school,” Edmonds School District Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas said, adding “it’s unfortunate and we feel for the parents.” Madrona is a magnet school, drawing 591 students from across the district into a K-8 setting. Tobias told us “our teachers are heartbroken, they want to be with their kids; it’s heartbreaking to go back to what it was last year.”
The Superintendent sent this email to parents:
“The Snohomish Health District recommends and supports the decision to close the school until Nov. 1 to help stop the transmission of COVID-19. This aligns with the latest guidance from the Washington State Department of Health.
Close contacts need to quarantine until instructed, and should not go to other activities or child care.
Students and staff not notified as a close contact do not need to quarantine, but should seek testing and monitor for symptoms.We appreciate your understanding as we do everything we can when it comes to the health and safety of our students and staff.”
Madrona parent Jody Ellinger told us that her hope was “if we can make it through the school year without quarantining, I will be thrilled.” But, she said, she should have known better. Her twin sons are fifth graders at Madrona. Last week, one tested positive, the other is still negative though they sit next to each other in class.
Ellinger’s son who got the virus has had only mild symptoms and is now “going stir crazy” waiting for his isolation to end. She knows that in some schools, students who have been vaccinated against COVID and have been in close contact with sick students have still been able to go to class. She hoped the district could find a way to keep some classes going at Madrona but added “it’s hard. I certainly understand the purpose of it (the school closure).”
Neither the school district nor the Snohomish County Health District knows why this outbreak hit the school so quickly. The first COVID case was reported on Oct. 8. But there may be several reasons.
Since Madrona is a magnet school, not a neighborhood school, it draws kids from across the district. And the teaching model at the heart of the Madrona program is different. Balderas explained that the school’s “educational model with ‘centers’ models lots of multi-age kids in close proximity.” Students of different ages learn together in those centers –first through third grade, fourth through sixth, and middle school. The district is also reviewing school bus video to see if that might help explain the rapid spread. But, as of now, there is no definitive explanation regarding how this happened.
Madrona’s COVID numbers are much higher than any other school in the district. In just one week — Oct. 9-15 — cases there hit 26. That week, 132 Madrona students were listed as being in “close contact.” In the same week, the other three dozen schools and learning programs reported 28 COVID cases district-wide among students; the most at any one of those schools was four cases.
The school district had tried to avoid a building-wide shut down. Last week, several of the Madrona centers with high COVID numbers were closed and those students prepared to resume online learning just for some students. But, as infection numbers rose, the district met with the Snohomish Health District, which, said Balderas, made a “strong recommendation” to close the entire school.
Now, the district and school staff are planning how to make it safe to bring children back. That will mean changing the multi-age centers that define Madrona. That will probably include, Balderas told us, trying to keep the kids in small groups and in the same groups, to limit contact.
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At the same time, the school’s parent group — the Madrona Integrated Team — is reaching out to help families who find themselves in quarantine for the next 10 days. The group is offering to pick up and deliver groceries for those families. “Our families have tried really hard to keep each other safe,” said Molly Tobias. She hopes that in these next two weeks, Madrona and the district can do a “reset and be ready for the rest of the school year.”
Superintendent Balderas told us he appreciates everybody’s patience. “The biggest impact is always on our kids.” he said. “I understand that; we hope this will be behind us soon.” He said he has “no concern about reopening, none whatsoever. We will reopen in two weeks.”
— By Bob Throndsen