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Groton schools to continue remote learning next week

Groton — The Groton school district will continue full remote learning next week, as 105 teachers and staff and 74 students need to self-isolate or quarantine, according to Superintendent Susan Austin.

The school district had shifted to full remote learning for this week due to a post-holiday uptick in cases, but Austin said the situation has only escalated since then.

She said in a communication Thursday to parents, guardians and staff that the decision to continue remote learning is due both “to the inability to provide appropriate staffing for in-person learning and for the safety of our students and staff.”

Austin said in a phone interview that, with community spread and increases in COVD-19 cases in Groton, the school district also is seeing cases in schools.

According to data from Ledge Light Health District, Groton had 391 cases over the two week period from Jan. 3 to Jan. 16, and 8.2% of molecular and antigen tests over that period were positive.

The school district in New London, where 8.5% of tests over that period were positive and where there were 457 new cases, also has shifted to remote learning. New London students are slated to learn fully remotely until Feb. 1, according to the district's website, newlondon.org.

Norwich Free Academy also has shifted to fully remote learning amid an increase of cases in the area, with the Head of School Brian Kelly announcing Friday that the regional high school would remain fully remote until Feb. 1.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London reported that it was treating 40 COVID-19 patients Friday; Westerly Hospital had 13.

“We’re doing all the proactive work — washing hands and wearing masks and 6 feet apart and cohorting — but still have people who are positive in the schools,” Austin said. “Where it comes from, we really don’t know and certainly we’ve encouraged all of our employees to practice safeguards in the school and beyond.”

She explained that the 105 teachers, staff and 74 students do not all represent positive COVID-19 cases, since the numbers also include the contacts of people who are positive for COVID-19. Typically, for every one positive case, there are about 10 contacts.

She said school administrators have been working with Ledge Light Health District to identify all the contacts of people positive for COVID-19. Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, contacts have to quarantine, while people who are positive for COVID-19 have to self-isolate.

She said the cases are aligned with community spread. She said she knows of only a couple of cases in which a contact of a person positive for COVID-19 also tested positive, but it is unknown if the person was exposed in school or outside of school.

“An educator myself, my duty and responsibility has always been to protect my students and safeguard their safety and their health, and they can’t learn if we’re not able to safeguard them,” she added. “I plan on making sure that they have the best possible education, whether it's remote or hybrid or full-in person and accelerating their learning and providing even summer opportunities and other opportunities so that we can make sure kids are where they need to be and learning.”

She said the school district would not be able to run with the limited staffing currently available.

Though schools are closed, the district will have sports conditioning and practices starting next week — but no games — and safety protocols will be in place that call for small groups and social distancing, she said. For example, there will be one coach per seven athletes and small group rotations — with about four people each — for conditioning. The activities will take place in multiple spaces at the high school.

Austin notified parents, guardians and staff on Friday that school officials learned that individuals associated with Northeast Academy, Charles Barnum Elementary School, and Claude Chester Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19. 

"There were no contacts in Northeast Academy and Charles Barnum; however, Claude Chester did have contacts in the school," she wrote. "We have collaborated with Ledge Light Health District to determine and have already notified all close contacts. The affected person has been instructed to isolate at home following public health guidelines."

Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.

k.drelich@theday.com

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