(Photo via Karen Apricot/Flickr)

A small special education school in Danville is coping with a COVID-19 outbreak that sickened eight adults led to the temporary closure of one class, according to officials with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

The outbreak occurred at the start of the district’s second phase of campus reopenings, which kicked off on Nov. 17, said Superintendent John Malloy.

One adult student at the Del Amigo campus, which serves developmentally disabled adults, came to school and was exhibiting symptoms, Malloy said.

A staff member who works in the classroom took the student’s temperature and sent them home but district officials didn’t learn of their positive COVID-19 status until much later.

“We did not know that there were positive cases in this classroom until really the following Monday, Nov. 23,” Malloy said.

“In these cases, our challenge was that the student may have been ill but we did not have that positive test result and we didn’t have the student at home,” he said.

Malloy said there was some confusion about two elements of the district’s COVID-19 safety protocols that contributed to the outbreak.

First, the student should have been sent to the principal’s office, where they would have been evaluated by a school nurse and then kept at home until they were no longer contagious.

Second, classroom staff should have been wearing a different kind of personal protective equipment because the student was not able to wear a mask due to an underlying medical condition.

“I’m in no way trying to blame anyone,” Malloy said. “Part of dealing with this virus is learning and strengthening practices.”

“It is a complex situation, it has many layers, it is very difficult and we’re working very hard to make sure everyone is safe,” he said.

As a result of the outbreak, district officials are reinforcing safety protocols with teachers, parents and staff and clarifying that in the rare instances when a student cannot be masked, people around that student should wear face shields as well as N95 masks.

Alameda County’s public health officials have said that if all of the proper procedures are followed — using the proper protective equipment, practicing social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing and quarantining — then the district should be able to return to in-person instruction safely and effectively, according to Malloy.

The district is also working to improve communication about COVID-19 within the school community, Malloy said.

Still, the outbreak has led to increased fears about reopening schools during the height of the pandemic as cases locally and across the country continue to climb steeply.

“It has absolutely heightened some of the anxiety of returning to school,” said Laura Finco, vice president of the San Ramon Valley Education Association, the union that represents teachers in the district.

“In a school you’re in a smaller space for a longer period of time than you are in a grocery store or even getting your hair cut,” Finco said.

Finco said the union has worked hard with the district to establish proper safety practices.

“It comes down to people feeling safe on campuses and the best thing to do is be able to communicate and I believe we can always improve our line of communication and letting people know what’s going on,” Finco said.

Currently, the district plans to open campuses on Jan. 5 for families that choose to participate in a hybrid remote/in-person instructional schedule.

About 30 percent of the district’s roughly 30,000 students have indicated they will do so, Malloy said.

The staff members affected by the Del Amigo outbreak are represented by the California School Employees Association Local 65.

Tami Castelluccio, an officer with CSEA, declined to comment.

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.