More COVID-19 cases force several school districts to suspend in-person instruction
An increase in COVID-19 cases in several southeastern Connecticut communities has resulted in some schools reverting to all-remote learning.
Some schools in Waterford, Montville, Norwich, New London, Colchester and Groton have temporarily stopped offering in-person classes for, at most, two weeks. Similar changes have occurred in towns such as Preston and East Lyme over the past week.
These schools, like others across the region, began the school year under a hybrid format, in which students attended in-person instruction twice a week with virtual learning the other three days. Most school systems had hopes of returning to full in-person instruction this month.
As of Sept. 28, Connecticut had 34% of its schools providing full in-person instruction, 60% in a hybrid learning mode and 6% fully remote, according to Gov. Ned Lamont's office.
In an email to parents, guardians and staff Sunday night, Schools Superintendent Thomas Giard said Clark Lane Middle School would suspend in-person classes and go to full distance learning beginning Monday through Oct. 16.
Giard said the school district was alerted on Sunday that “an individual connected with Clark Lane Middle School tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.”
The school is working with Ledge Light Health District on contract tracing in this case. The person who tested positive was told to self-quarantine. Giard said school or local health officials have or will contact anyone who is considered a close contact with the person who tested positive.
“The school will reopen for all students and staff on Monday, October 19, 2020,” Giard said. “We will be announcing the alternative meal pick-up location in a future correspondence as we will not be using Clark Lane for meal pick-up during these two weeks.”
“Please know that we are closely monitoring this situation and we will continue working closely with LLHD and state public health officials to optimize school conditions and to isolate this positive case,” Giard added.
New London High School, known as the New London High School Multi-Magnet Campus, reported on Saturday that a second student has tested positive for COVID-19. The student was reported to be in quarantine and contact tracing underway. The school resumed classes as scheduled on Monday.
Harbor Elementary School remained closed to all in-person classes this week following two positive cases that were reported last week. School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie said the shift to virtual classes at Harbor was being done out of an abundance of caution. In-person classes are scheduled to be closed through Oct. 16.
Saint Bernard School, a private Catholic school in Montville, will be move to full distance learning beginning Tuesday and lasting to Oct. 13, according to Headmaster Donald Macrino.
“The staff will remain at the school, and they’ll do the instruction from their classrooms,” Macrino said. “We had a member of our school community who had a positive test for COVID-19. That individual was present (last) Tuesday.”
Saint Bernard is consulting with Uncas Health District as the situation develops.
“We’re going on the safe side,” Macrino said. “We feel this is the best way to ensure a safe path forward. It’s certainly inconvenient, we understand that. Our teachers have worked very hard to deliver quality instruction virtually, and this transition should be a smooth one. Hopefully this will be the only time we have to do it this year.”
Superintendent of Schools Michael Graner notified parents Sunday night that a member of the middle school community has tested positive for COVID-19 and that he was suspending in-person classes at Groton Middle School through Oct. 16.
Graner said he learned Sunday that the individual tested positive and said the individual had contact with "numerous persons" in the school last week.
"We are collaborating with Ledge Light Health District to determine and notify recent close contacts with this person," he said. "The affected person has been instructed to isolate at home following public health guidelines."
Claude Chester Elementary School will be on full distance learning for two days to do contact tracing, as the district learned the person who tested positive also had contact with people at Claude Chester, Graner said.
School officials also received notification Monday morning that an individual at Northeast Academy Arts Magnet Elementary School in Mystic had tested positive, but the individual was not in the building for a little over a week and was not infectious while in the building, he said. Northeast Academy will not shift to fully remote learning.
"The good news about that case, completely unlike the middle school, is that the individual was not in school for quite some time so the contact tracing is extremely limited," Graner said. He added that contact tracing was done "almost immediately."
Graner said a positive COVID-19 case was reported Oct. 1 at Central Office and another case reported the same day at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School. He said contact tracing has been completed for both cases.
For positive COVID-19 cases, the school district is not identifying whether it involves a student or a staff member due to confidentiality of health information, he said.
Norwich Public Schools and Norwich Free Academy reverted to fully remote learning for two weeks, and Norwich Regional Technical High School for one week in response to a COVID-19 outbreak in the city.
Over the weekend, Norwich Public School Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow sent a letter to parents and staff at the Moriarty Environmental Sciences Magnet Elementary School that three members of the school community have tested positive for COVID-19.
Stringfellow said that all three have been provided additional instructions to follow before returning to school. Family members have been instructed to self-quarantine and to get tested. The three individuals last were in the school on Sept. 29, and anyone who had been in close contact with the three people have been contacted by Uncas Health District and have been given instructions, Stringfellow wrote.
The school system sent out an email to families Monday saying two additional staff members have tested positive to COVID-19, one at the Central Office and one at Bacon Academy. Bacon Academy will remain operating under the current hybrid model.
Staff Writers Kimberly Drelich, Julia Bergman, Claire Bessette and Greg Smith contributed to this report.
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