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COVID-19 cases prompt New London, Montville schools to shift to remote learning

As much of the region appears to be experiencing a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases, some school districts are announcing a shift to remote learning.

New London Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie on Wednesday announced that schools would shift to remote learning through the end of the month. In a statement to families, she said that over the prior 12 hours the district was informed of a new wave of positive test results.

A total of 17 positive cases have been reported in the district from Monday evening through Wednesday morning. These cases spanned across all schools, Central Office and distance learners, Ritchie said. Central Office staff members are now working remotely as a result.

Montville Public Schools are shifting to remote-only learning for the next week, Superintendent Laurie Pallin said in a notice to staff and families Tuesday.

In Groton, Superintendent Susan Austin said in a notification that school officials learned Tuesday evening that an individual in the Charles Barnum Elementary School community tested positive for COVID-19 but had no contacts at the school and has been told to isolate at home. Austin said school officials are monitoring the situation with Ledge Light Health District.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital reported Wednesday that it was treating 39 COVID-19 patients, while Westerly Hospital had 10.

New London

"Each case this week comes with a ripple effect, placing several others who are deemed a 'close contact' in quarantine assignments," Ritchie said. "Still others need to remain out due to travel advisory quarantine mandates and/or (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) leaves due to health or family needs."

The decision to move to remote learning, she said, aligned with the district's COVID-19 response plan.

New London, which had been in a hybrid model, was among school districts in the region that had shifted to fully remote learning for the week following the holidays. Ritchie said that had given staff and students extra time to get COVID-19 tests in an attempt to reduce the number of positive cases coming back into the schools.

Ritchie said she expects staff and students to return to in-person classes on Feb. 1.

"It is clear the COVID-19 affects all people - students, staff, families, extended families, and all environments," Ritchie said. "All must remain diligent in mask wearing, handwashing, and social distancing (to the best extent possible) in hopes that we can contribute to the stop of the spread, while eagerly awaiting the distribution of the vaccine. Living hour by hour, receiving new data daily, is very challenging for all."

Food distribution will continue and the district has posted a schedule for meal pickups on its website, www.newlondon.org.

Montville

"We have reached the very difficult decision to move the district to fully remote learning for a week," Pallin wrote in an email Tuesday to Montville Public Schools families and staff. "We are juggling a number of students and staff members who are in isolation and quarantine and there are interconnections between families and staff who attend multiple schools in the district. There is no single event that led to this decision, however the logistics of staffing and contact tracing have become increasingly difficult. "

All district students will work remotely from Wednesday until Thursday, Jan. 21, when hybrid instruction will resume. Teachers will communicate with students digitally.

Pallin also implored people to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols.

"We urge you to minimize contacts outside of the immediate household. It is extremely important that you continue to reach out to school nurses or building administrators if your child tests positive, exhibits symptoms, or is a close contact," she wrote. "Even though the buildings will be closed to students, we must complete contact tracing and identify close contacts for every positive case."

Pallin acknowledged how disruptive the shift to exclusively remote learning can be for families, "but hopefully in a week the number of positive cases will have decreased and we will safely reopen schools for in-person learning on Thursday, January 21st."

Day Staff Writers Kimberly Drelich and Brian Hallenbeck contributed to this report.

g.smith@theday.com

s.spinella@theday.com

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