HARPSWELL — Harpswell Coastal Academy is temporarily closing its campuses in Harpswell and Brunswick after a faculty member received a presumptive positive coronavirus test result Tuesday, according to Scott Barksdale, head of school.

In an email to The Times Record, Barksdale said Tuesday the faculty member tested negative for coronavirus, but was “presumptive positive according to her doctor and our school physician due to symptoms and exposure to a COVID-19 positive person who is not from school.”

The faculty member took a second coronavirus test that came back positive Tuesday night, leading the school to pivot to its full-time online learning plan through Friday, Sept. 25 “out of an abundance of caution,” said Barksdale.

“I’m so glad we have had these past two weeks to be together in person, and I look forward to the learning and community that will continue to happen remotely,” Barksdale wrote in a letter to students and families Tuesday.

Barksdale declined to name the faculty member, but said they were “last in contact with students and other staff members at [the Harpswell campus] this past Friday and [the Brunswick campus] on Thursday.”

“The 48 hour infectious period for this individual started late Friday afternoon, after students had left the building but while some staff members were still present,” Barksdale wrote. “Since Friday afternoon, all facilities, buses and related areas have been through our weekly sanitization and cleaning routines by our in-house staff and by our contracted professional cleaning service.”

The academy opened to students Sept. 3 with 70% of the study body choosing to participate in in-person classes. The remaining 30% opted for full distance learning, according to Barksdale.

The academy’s middle school, located off Harpswell Neck Road in West Harpswell, began the school year with five days of in-person learning and has 68 students.

The high school, which has a four-day in-person learning plan, has 105 students and is located at Brunswick Landing.

Barksdale said he’s thankful for the school small size because it allows them “to respond really quickly to keep our communities safe.”

“We’re aware of the impact we have on our families,” said Barksdale. “Our focus is social change and entrepreneurship, so we have kids who are invested in their learning and see the impact they have on their community.”

Juliana Martin, a Harpswell Coastal Academy sophomore, said she doesn’t mind that the school needs to go back to distance learning temporarily because it’s a necessary step in keeping students, staff and their families safe.

“Hopefully after a good deep cleaning of our school we can go back in person with safety measures in place to keep us all healthy,” she said.

Although she doesn’t mind going back to temporary distance learning, Juliana Martin said she was surprised to see a coronavirus case from within the school so soon after school began less than two weeks ago.

“Everyone has been doing their part by wearing masks and staying apart,” she said.

“I just hope the staff member, whoever they are, recovers quickly if they are sick and their families stay safe,” she said. “I want this to work itself out.”

Judy Martin, Juliana’s mother, said she’s glad they closed the school immediately, but one thing that would ease her mind is knowing which faculty member tested positive so her family would know how much contact her daughter has had with the person.

“I trust the school that they have good protocols in place … but I’m curious and a little nervous of how they weed through the spider web of contact tracing,” she said.

The academy is a charter school, meaning students and staff from anywhere in the state can attend. Barksdale said the school has students from as far away as Auburn and Richmond, both roughly a 45-minute drive from Harpswell.

Cumberland County, which includes both Brunswick and Harpswell, have had 2,257 cases of coronavirus since the virus reached Maine in March, according to the Maine CDC. Of those, 2,003 people had recovered and 70 had died as of Tuesday. Statewide, 4,918 Mainers have contracted coronavirus as of Tuesday and 4,280 have recovered. Another 137 have died.

Brunswick has seen 30 cases of coronavirus and Harpswell has seen one to five, according to the Maine CDC.

Midcoast Hospital in Brunswick has treated 20 patients for coronavirus since March, but is not currently treating anyone, according to spokesperson Judy Kelsh.


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