PARIS — SAD 17 administrators closed two of its schools after the Maine Center for Disease Control confirmed outbreaks at both locations. The schools are expected to reopen on Nov. 30.

Guy E. Rowe School was closed over the weekend when two confirmed and three probable cases of COVID-19 forced another 34 students and staff to go into quarantine. By Tuesday afternoon there were seven detected cases and the number of those who need to be quarantined jumped to 56.

Club Rowe, which operates after-school programs for children ages five to 12 at the school, also had a confirmed case of COVID-19, according to a parent’s Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon. The post said the daycare will be closed until Nov. 30 as well. Managers for the program could not be reached for comment by press time.

Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School closed Tuesday when confirmed and probable cases went from four to five, with the number needing to quarantine more than doubling from 14 to 35 in just one day.

The Maine CDC recommends that schools close for two weeks when faced with an outbreak of five or more cases. Rowe and OHCHS will remain closed through Thanksgiving. All schools were closed on Nov. 11 for Veterans’ Day and there are no high school classes today as teachers prepare to start full remote education on Friday.

“After we determined to close Rowe school, teachers spent Monday preparing learning packets for students,” said Superintendent Rick Colpitts. “We were unable to go to online remote learning because we do not have adequate technology. Learning packets were available for pick-up at the school on Tuesday morning and a dedicated bus run went out Tuesday afternoon to drop the packets off at the homes of families who are unable to pick them up directly.”

The lack of technology has been a major barrier to distance learning since the start of the pandemic, and school districts across the country have faced it for months. CARES ACT funding was made available for schools to acquire devices and platforms for all students, but dealers and service providers do not have enough supply to meet the demand.

But Colpitts said that enough Chromebooks have been received this week to provide all Rowe students with one by the end of the week. High school students are already equipped with devices, although it is unclear whether the district has succeeded in making internet connections available in all homes yet. Each new device needs to be formatted and loaded with programs and applications by information technology staff before they can be delivered.

“Our staff is working diligently to get this done,” Colpitts said. “Our goal is to have it all completed and available by Thursday afternoon and have all of them in-home by Friday.”

Despite the two schools being closed to students, educators cleared to enter the buildings will be able to work from their own classrooms.

“Some [teachers] will have better internet access from school,” Colpitts explained. “Standard safety measures continue and there will be no shared spaces so social distancing can be maintained. Office staff will be at work and answering the phones as usual. Facilities employees and educators too will be engaged in heavy cleaning of the spaces.”

Colpitts said that a table showing COVID-19 status by school has been added to the district’s website, www.msad17.org/, which enables parents to track how their child’s school is affected on a daily basis.

As infections and exposure spread, a major resource in short supply is that of teachers and substitutes. Colpitts worries that in the future individual schools will not have enough employees on hand to be open at times.

“If an educator is in quarantine, they can provide remote lessons to their class via Zoom,” Colpitts said. “If a teacher is ill and asymptomatic they can opt to continue working while they recover.

“But not everyone will be well enough. There may be times that we are too short-handed of substitute teachers or other in-school staff to hold class.”

As of late on Nov. 10, Otisfield Elementary School had 13 in quarantine and a total of four positive and probable cases. The first case at that school was detected on Oct. 30. Colpitts said most of the students in staff who have quarantined since then should be eligible to return by Friday.

Paris Elementary School had nine students currently out of school due to possible exposure, and one confirmed positive case.

Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris, Oxford Elementary School and Agnes Gray in West Paris each had fewer than four people in quarantine and no confirmed or probably cases. Schools in Waterford, Harrison and Hebron, had reported no students or staff needing to quarantine as of Tuesday.

As Maine continues to see record-setting illness reported day after day, Colpitts does see reason for hope within Oxford Hills.

“Parents are doing incredibly well at screening children every day,” Colpitts said. “That is a big reason why we have been able to catch illness; parent have been vigilant at monitoring their kids for symptoms and mitigating exposure to other kids.”

OHCHS recently saw its entire varsity field hockey team quarantined after being exposed in a home game against Fryeburg Academy on October 21. Colpitts could not confirm that any of the 10 players tested positive but expects all to be cleared from the quarantine list this week. Of course, no student will be able to return to the school until the end of the month.

On Nov. 10 the Maine’ CDC reported 172 new cases of COVID-19 and a 7-day average of 165.3. But on Nov. 9 the state reported 204 new cases a record single-day high. One week ago the new case average for the previous seven days was 102 daily cases. During the second week of October the seven day average of reported cases was just 31.

 

 

 

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