La Salle Clarifies Its Protocols in Reaction to the Omicron Variant, Striving To Continue In-Person Learning


Lukas Werner

More than 1 in 10 public school students are learning from home in the Portland area due to a significant spike in positive COVID-19 tests in Oregon and nationwide.

Brooklyn Chillemi, Editor in Chief

As the omicron variant of the coronavirus ripples through the globe, nine high schools in the Portland area have closed in-person learning thus far, citing student and teacher illnesses, as well as staffing shortages.

According to Vice Principal of Student Life Mr. Brian Devine, La Salle has chosen to continue in-person classes unless at least one of the three following situations occur: there is a significant spread of the virus on campus, daily COVID-related absences affect over 25% of the La Salle student body, or La Salle runs out of teachers who can work in-person, either due to their own illness or the illness of their families. 

This decision was reached after consultation with the Clackamas County Public Health Division, the Oregon Health Authority, and other Catholic high schools in the area. 

“I felt like this was a good way to not instill panic while also being mindful and on top of the situation,” freshman Avari Brocker said. “Personally I think each of those conditions is well thought out and appropriate given our current situation, and I really hope it doesn’t get to the point that we need to go back online.” 

La Salle has also made adjustments to their previous COVID-19 protocols, including requiring athletes — with the exception of swimmers — to wear masks during practices and games and suspending out-of-state travel for student groups through February.

In developing the criteria for staying on campus, “we felt confident that we could support up to 25% of our students in quarantine or isolation,” Mr. Devine said. 

To put that into perspective, “the greatest number we had was that first week back after Christmas break, and we had 5% of our students quarantining or isolating.” 

Freshman Nola Bartley was one of the students who was quarantined during this time, and “teachers did a great job of reaching out to me and filling me in on what I would miss,” she said. However, she said that she is “grateful we are still able to be having in-person school,” because it “benefits everyone in a social, mental, or physical way.” 

However, one concern that is greater than the absence of students is the availability of staff members — whether that be teachers, coaches, faculty, etc — as that is the main reason schools in the Portland area are shifting to distance learning. La Salle did not name a percentage for how many staff could be absent due to COVID-related reasons before the shift to distance learning was necessary, but “I don’t feel like we’ve come close to reaching that yet,” Mr. Devine said. “We have had a number of staff positives, but we’ve been able to cover those with some in-house substitutes or substitutes from the community.” 

To be “as transparent as possible” about the positive tests in the community, Mr. Devine created a spreadsheet tallying positive tests for students and staff, as well as the number of students quarantining from both on-campus and off-campus exposures. 

Initially, La Salle’s plan was to send an email to families for every positive case in the community — but with the recent spike in cases, it didn’t feel “realistic” to do so, Mr. Devine said. 

Because it is mandatory for La Salle staff members to be fully vaccinated, there is currently no column on the chart listing how many of them are quarantining because they are not required to do so. However, this week, “there’s been new guidance published about the expiration of vaccines,” Mr. Devine said. 

According to the Oregon Health Authority, if you are over the age of 18 and were considered fully vaccinated more than six months ago, but have not received a booster shot, you are now no longer considered fully up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations. Because of this, staff members who have not yet received their booster shot and are exposed to COVID-19 will be required to quarantine for five days. 

“So we may need to add a column there that says ‘staff who are quarantining,’” Mr. Devine said. 

Positive COVID-19 Tests

Source: La Salle Administration

Positive COVID-19 Tests

Source: Oregon Health Authority

There is data missing from 11/7 to 11/20 due to the OHA not reporting on 11/13 and 11/14.

In addition to the previous precautions La Salle is enforcing, there was originally a plan for La Salle to require weekly antigen COVID-19 tests for winter sports athletes, regardless of vaccination status, “mainly because we’re competing indoors,” Mr. Devine said. However, earlier this week parents were informed that La Salle shifted away from that decision. 

“There’s a lot of evidence right now that the rapid tests that we offer, they’re very reliable and effective, but they don’t capture the whole arc of the infection,” Mr. Devine said. “They really just capture the peak of the infection. So when you test a large group of students, like a basketball team, and you’re doing that weekly, it’s not necessarily the most accurate predictor of where people are.” 

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, on the other hand, “tests for the presence of the actual virus’s genetic material or its fragments as it breaks down,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. “PCR is the most reliable and accurate test for detecting active infection.” 

However, La Salle does not have access to these tests, so “we would have had to outsource that to a company, or we would have had to have students go and get those tests independently of one another,” Mr. Devine said. 

Thus, La Salle is continuing with “targeted testing” with the rapid antigen tests for students who have known exposures, are symptomatic, or are unvaccinated. 

“I’m hoping that this is a peak that happens, and we can kind of get back to those weeks of zero [cases],” Mr. Devine said. “I’ve been so impressed with our students’ response to these protocols.”