Rapid response to COVID-19 case at Portland school reassures parents

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Aug. 25, 2020 1 p.m.

As school reopening looms, a positive COVID-19 result at a Portland child care center presents a best case for how to deal with the virus.

A person in a classroom at Portland’s Montessori of Alameda school tested positive for COVID-19. On Friday and into the weekend, the school notified families of the information and how it planned to deal with the result.

That transparency and communication with families reassured parents that even if COVID-19 came into their child’s classroom, the school would communicate its response clearly and quickly.


It’s a best-case-scenario for something schools and child care centers may see increasingly as more adults go back to work, and schools begin to reopen.

“I feel like they’ve done everything good and everything right,” said parent Kelsey Pops. “Sometimes it’s just a tough situation.”

Pops’ child was part of the classroom with the individual who tested positive. For privacy reasons, the school did not specify if the person was an adult or a child. In phone calls and emails to families, the school said it will close the affected classroom for the next two weeks.

That allows time for families and staff to monitor for symptoms, but also for the school to clean the classroom extensively, including steam cleaning carpets, sanitizing the floors, and changing air filters in the classroom.

The school stayed open throughout the pandemic, serving essential workers. But as the pandemic continued, the school shifted to serve more students while continuing to follow safety and cleaning protocols.

That reassured parent Katrina Leupp, whose 2-and-a-half-year-old son has attended Montessori of Alameda for more than a year.

“It was a tough decision on whether or not we were going to send him back to child care,” Leupp said. “Ultimately, [we] continued to want to maintain his slot at Montessori of Alameda and maintain his enrollment in the program because it’s so good for him, and he loves it so much.”

As an essential worker, parent Chris Barney decided to keep his daughter home to limit potential exposure to the virus. But as time wore on, he felt comfortable with the school’s communication and plan to keep classes contained and increase cleaning.

But, he said, he still understood the possibility of COVID-19 entering his daughter’s school.

“It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen at this school. It’s going to happen at schools everywhere, and unfortunately, it happened to my daughter’s class,” Barney said.


“It’s not really anybody’s fault, it’s kind of the current reality we’re in.”

The school said unaffected classrooms will remain open, noting groups of children “do not mix or share space.”

“We remain optimistic that the transmission risk is low due to the many health and safety precautions in place at MOA,” school officials wrote in a letter to families.

Parents like Barney remain optimistic, too.

“Despite there being elements of this that are out of our control, it’s good expectations and good plans put in place by the state — and then adhered to by the school — which will then minimize and hopefully negate any real long term negative effects to the students, to the teachers, to families,” Barney said.

The Oregon Health Authority documents outbreaks in “smaller schools and child care in aggregate if the threshold of 5 or more cases is met.” As of August 19, there have 66 COVID-19 cases related to four schools, child care facilities or summer camps.

Those include Lake Grove KinderCare, which reported 29 total cases in June. In a statement, KinderCare Education, the for-profit company overseeing the Lake Grove facility, highlighted increased measures to reduce the potential for another outbreak. They include a “health and safety ambassador” and health screenings throughout the day.

“We partnered with medical experts to redesign our daily health & safety practices to go beyond state and CDC guidelines because we believe that’s the right thing to do,” said a statement from KinderCare Education.

But there are even more COVID-19 cases tied to child care facilities than the ones reported by OHA.

As of Aug. 3, the state’s Early Learning Division said it is aware of 59 child care facilities allowed to operate during the pandemic where “there has been at least one case of COVID-19 and where the facility provided a voluntary report to the Office of Child Care.”

Come Sept. 1, those reports will be required.

Despite the Montessori outbreak being a best-case-scenario, it remains to be seen how a sudden closure like this might affect a smaller child care facility, or a facility serving less affluent families.

For Leupp, a professor at Washington State University, the sudden child care closure coincided with the first week of classes. She said she considers herself lucky to have the job flexibility and income to get through a tough week ahead.

“I think this whole pandemic is really bringing to the forefront how essential child care and early childhood education are to keeping an economy running,” Leupp said.