COVID away from schools a ‘silver lining’

As COVID-19 rates rise in the Bainbridge Island School District, superintendent Peter Bang-Knudsen sees a “silver lining” in the testing data that the district reviews daily.

During his report at last week’s school board meeting, Bang-Knudsen said COVID cases are higher than ever, but case studies show that much of the transmission is occurring outside of schools.

“These numbers are high, and schools are still an incredibly safe place to be,” Bang-Knudsen said.

“The really good news that’s helping the district keep schools open is the Department of Health reduced the amount of isolation time for COVID-positive cases, from ten days to five days with a negative test at the end of that five days,” and Bang-Knudsen added, “That change will allow both students and staff to come back quickly. What they’re finding is that Omicron comes on pretty quickly, and then it goes away pretty quickly.”

The superintendent emphasized that the district is dedicated to in-person learning and will only temporarily close schools due to staff shortages or if directed by the Kitsap Public Health District.

Bang-Knudsen said everyone is pitching in. Administration office staff, principals and teachers are helping each other out. “We’re doing a really good job of moving people around.”

If the KPHD identifies too many cases connected to one classroom or one school the BISD will need to pause and reassess. For any closure, those days would be made up in the same manner as snow days.

The district continues to notify all close contacts who are fully vaccinated by email, while unvaccinated people receive a phone call with additional information.

Bang-Knudsen acknowledged the “incredible team” that operates the BISD COVID Testing Site on school days from 6:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. for BISD students and staff.

KPHD is working with BISD daily and has assigned a permanent health team member for the next few months to communicate back to Dr. Gib Morrow with KPHD. “They’re very aware of what’s happening here, and they’re supportive of us continuing the course that we’re on,” Bang-Knudsen said.

The superintendent believes BISD is nearing the peak of the surge. “There’s more evidence that Omicron doesn’t have the same negative effect on the lung tissue, as some of the original viruses did,” and, “There is definitely reason for hope and optimism.”

Also at the meeting, Bang-Knudsen reflected on a passage from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and recited, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

In those words, he sees that the community is moving in a direction away from fear, anxiety and inconvenience, and moving toward a zone of hope with a lot of positive opportunities ahead. Bang-Knudsen shared examples of how students and staff are honoring Dr. King with activities, lessons and virtual assemblies.

“I am cautiously optimistic, but much more hopeful than I’ve been through much of this pandemic,” he said.