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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

COVID-19 outbreak strikes Lakeland school district

 (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)

Two weeks after opening the year with the most wide-open back-to-school model in the Inland Northwest, the Lakeland Joint School District has been struck with at least 10 cases of COVID-19.

In a letter sent to staff Thursday morning, Lakeland High School Principal Trent Derrick acknowledged that “information has been provided to our school and district due to recent COVID contact tracing procedures.”

The extent and cause of the outbreak are unclear. Lakeland high school and district officials, as well as the district’s chief nurse, did not respond to phone calls and emails Thursday.

However, during a school board meeting Tuesday night, Superintendent Becky Meyer told directors that the district had “10 total cases” of COVID-19.

Of those 10 cases, four were reported prior to the beginning of the school year and four occurred within the first two days of school.

All 10 people who tested positive “appear to be related to a positive case outside of school …. That made me feel better,” said Meyer, who did not specify which schools showed positive tests.

It’s unclear whether the affected students might have infected other children before their positive tests.

It’s also unclear whether the incidents mentioned by Meyer are the same as those referenced two days later by Derrick.

At the Panhandle Health District, spokesperson Katherine Hoyer said the district would not release district-specific information unless the numbers represented a threat to public health.

“But that hasn’t happened,” Hoyer said Thursday.

However, the outbreak is considered severe enough to force cancellation of one the biggest football rivalries in the Inland Northwest.

Lakeland was scheduled to host Post Falls Friday night in the annual “Battle of the Prairie,” which was to double as Homecoming.

However, the game was canceled in compliance with Panhandle Health District recommendations; so too were the freshman and junior varsity games on Thursday.

It’s unclear whether the game will be made up.

“We were ready to play, pretty confident heading in,” said Lakeland coach Tim Kiefer, whose team is 2-2.

“Yeah, a little disappointing – well, a lot disappointing. But these things happen,” Kiefer said.

All homecoming events were postponed to Oct. 16, when Lakeland hosts Sandpoint.

“We’re looking at this like a speed bump. Hopefully we miss just the one game and we can get the rest of our season in,” Kiefer said.

In his letter, Derrick told staff to be flexible.

“One thing I am learning during these times is that things can change from one day to the next,” Derrick wrote.

The positive cases aren’t the first this year at Lakeland High School. On Monday, parents and staff were notified of a single positive test.

Lakeland and its 4,300 students started school on Sept. 8 with full in-person learning with no masks required after a school board decision on Aug. 28.

Three days earlier, the board had voted to begin the year with a hybrid model that called for in-person instruction two days a week, with the rest remote.

That was in line with neighboring districts in Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.

But even as the meeting was streamed on Facebook Live, viewers posted more than 1,200 comments, most of them urging to open classes four or five days a week.

Two days later, on Thursday, the Panhandle Health District lowered its COVID-19 risk level from “orange” to the less restrictive “yellow.”

That evening, the board scheduled a special meeting for the following night and approved its own change to yellow.

Also on Thursday, the Mead School District reported its first case.

Earlier this week, Midway Elementary Principal Christine Spinnell said in a letter to parents that a student was sent home Monday on the first day of class after being confirmed to have coronavirus.

The letter also said that the case was not transmitted at school and that families of students who were classified as close contacts have been notified.