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A student attending in-person classes at Kettle Run High School has tested positive for the COVID-19, a health department letter to Kettle Run parents and staff announced Monday. No students or staff members were considered “close contacts” of the infected individual, the letter said. The case is the first reported in a student attending a Fauquier County public school.

Health department officials have “completed the investigation of the case and determined that no staff or students at Kettle Run High School are considered close contacts of the case as the onset of illness was greater than 48 hours from the date the student last attended in-person instruction,” said the Oct. 19 letter from Daniel Ferrell, a Virginia Department of Health epidemiologist assigned to the Rappahannock-Rapidan Health District.

Administrators first learned of the positive case Sunday, Oct. 18, according to school division representative Tara Helkowski. She would not say when the student would be permitted to return to in-person instruction, adding, “each case is unique. The health department gives the student a return-to-school note that must be presented to the school upon their return.”

Fauquier County Public Schools are currently delivering instruction to most students remotely. As of Nov. 9, all students will have the option of attending in-person classes two days per week. About 7,500 students are slated to return to school buildings. Others have chosen to continue learning remotely.

The children who will be learning remotely will be able to follow lessons via a camera trained on their teachers, who will be teaching students in the classroom.

Some preschool students and students with special needs have received in-person instruction since the beginning of the academic year, and Fauquier Community Child Care has operated day cares in some school buildings since August. Additionally, some students enrolled in trade and technical classes are currently attending classes in school buildings, along with some students for whom English is a second language.

Some schools are offering “internet cafes,” where students complete their remote work from inside the schools where there is available internet access.

Helkowski did not answer whether there is a standardized process for parents to notify the school division of a positive test, but said, “Parents must notify the school of any positive cases, just like they do for an absence.”

All parents and staff members of Kettle Run High School received the Oct. 19 notification letter from the health department, Helkowski said.

This appears to be a change in school division policy from August. When confirming a positive case at Fauquier High School on Aug. 25 – the day after the academic year began -- Helkowski said at the time, “Since we are virtual, just staff members are notified.”

On Sept. 24, the school division launched a COVID-19 dashboard to report confirmed cases in the school division from that date onward. The dashboard lists the Oct. 18 case at Kettle Run but it does not specify whether the infected individual is a student or staff member.

Two other cases are reported on the dashboard – one at “school division central offices” and another at Fauquier High School – and are both dated Sept. 24.

The Sept. 24 case reported at central offices – later confirmed to be the school administration offices in the Alice Jane Childs Building -- prompted the cancellation of the annual school board retreat and the closure of those offices for several days.

Superintendent of Schools David Jeck, whose office is located in the Alice Jane Childs Building, confirmed he quarantined at home through Oct. 8 as a result of possible exposure to the infected individual.

School board member Stephanie Litter-Reber (Lee District) said other employees were told to stay home as well. The school board retreat was canceled, she said, “because of the positive COVID case on the 4th floor. Many of the staff responsible for planning and attending were/are quarantined.”

Before the COVID-19 dashboard was created, the school division did not publicly report positive cases among students and staff, only notifying staff members at the affected building.

However, several cases – including an officially designated “outbreak” at Bradley Elementary School in early August and a cluster of six cases at Building B of the Central Office Complex last month – were confirmed by the school division in response to queries from the Fauquier Times.

Responding to questions from the Fauquier Times, the school division also confirmed one case at Coleman Elementary on Aug. 17 and one case at Fauquier High on Aug. 25.

A total of 14 positive cases in the public-school system have been confirmed by the school division as of Oct. 21.

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