Mapleton teacher tests positive for COVID-19, as district plans to welcome students back for in-person learning

A teacher in Mapleton Public Schools has tested positive for COVID-19 less than three weeks before the district expects to welcome all students back for full-time, in-person instruction.

Melissa Johnson, the district’s director of school and community engagement, confirmed to The Denver Post that a teacher at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton received a positive test result Sunday. Teachers returned to school buildings Aug. 6, Johnson said, adding “there is no possible way she could have contracted the virus at work” based on the timeline of events.

“Out of an abundance of caution, all MESA staff were asked to work from home on Monday, Aug. 10, while we coordinated an evaluation of the situation with Tri-County Health,” Johnson said by email.

Tri-County Health cleared all teachers to return to the building Tuesday, except for the teacher who tested positive and six others who came in close contact with her and may have been exposed, Johnson said. All seven staff members are following quarantine procedures, she added.

Mapleton Public Schools is one of the few districts in the Denver metro area planning to start the 2020-21 school year with in-person learning, though families also have the option of enrolling in a full-time virtual curriculum conducted remotely. Classes begin Aug. 27, and Johnson said incident this does not affect the district’s plan to conduct in-person learning.

Experts say there will always be some risk of a school outbreak, but that strategies such as improving ventilation in facilities and screening for symptoms can lower the risk substantially.

Johnson said Mapleton school buildings are currently being modified to accommodate social distancing and minimize the risk of spreading germs. The district’s reopening plan calls for cohorting students in groups of 30 or less.

“Our buildings have large, flexible learning spaces that naturally support social distancing and student cohorts,” Johnson said. “Brand new air filtering units in all schools provide proper ventilation, air sanitation and air conditioning. We also have ample personal protection equipment available for students and staff, including masks, face shields, plexiglass partitions and sanitizing solutions.”

Still, some teachers don’t feel like safety protocols go far enough. In many districts, teachers have protested reopening plans and some have decided to leave the education field all together.

Information about how COVID-19 affects children and what role they may play in transmitting the virus is still preliminary, experts say. But a review of state data by American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association found that 97,000 children in the United States became infected in the last two weeks of July.

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