Ketchikan High School. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Three days into the school year, Ketchikan High School is closed after reporting cases of COVID-19. The school sent students home mid-morning on Monday, its first day of full in-person instruction and aren’t expected to return until Wednesday — at the earliest

Classes started Thursday in Ketchikan with classrooms at half-capacity for orientation. On Friday, the district reported its first COVID-19 cases of the year: one at Schoenbar Middle School and one at the high school. Two more positives were reported among people associated with the school on Sunday.

Ketchikan High School Principal Jason House sent an email to parents at 10:47 a.m. Monday that more COVID-19 cases had been discovered, and that students would be sent home immediately.

Superintendent Melissa Johnson told KRBD Monday that the closure is in line with the district’s pandemic response plan.

“Kayhi has experienced six new COVID cases impacting the school since Friday, with the majority of those cases believed to have been in school during their infectious period,” Johnson said in an emailed statement.

The school board-approved Start Strong plan recommends closing a school for at least 24 hours if multiple unlinked cases of COVID-19 are found.

An excerpt of the school district’s back-to-school plan outlining steps for school closures. (KGBSD)

“At this time we are not clear how these cases are related, which presents a higher risk to the school,” Johnson said.

Johnson says the district decided to temporarily shutter the school to allow time for contact tracing. She says it’s too early to know how many students will have to quarantine.

Johnson said some other schools had seen “isolated cases” that did not require full school closures under the district’s plan.

But Ketchikan Charter School’s principal told KRBD Monday that its sixth, seventh and eighth graders were sent home less than two hours after they arrived. Principal Kayla Livingston said the school was notified early Monday morning that someone associated with the school had tested positive over the weekend.

When Ketchikan Charter School students can return depends on whether they’ve been fully vaccinated, Livingston said in a letter posted on the school’s website. Vaccinated students can return to classrooms on Tuesday if not experiencing symptoms. Students who have not been vaccinated must be tested for COVID-19 on Wednesday before returning to school Thursday. Unvaccinated students who choose not to test can return Sept. 7.

Ketchikan’s school district requires masks and bans visitors during large COVID-19 outbreaks in the community. But unlike last year, students are learning in-person regardless of the number of confirmed cases in the community — the school district’s plan doesn’t allow for cuts to school capacity or large-scale remote learning during outbreaks, as it did last year.

In recent weeks, Ketchikan has broken records for new COVID-19 cases, active cases, hospitalizations and deaths in a surge fueled by the delta variant.