As the occurrence of COVID-19 infection increases in central Maine, schools are modifying their plans to avoid outbreaks and keep students safe and learning until they can return to in-person or hybrid learning.

On Monday, Messalonskee High School in Oakland sent students home to learn remotely for a week after a positive test was reported.

In Waterville, school administrators said they expected students in its teen parent program to return to school Tuesday after two weeks of learning remotely.

Vehicles and buses exit Messaonskee High School in Oakland on Monday after classes were canceled and school dismissed. The early dismissal was prompted by a positive case of COVID-19 at the school. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Bingham-based Upper Kennebec Jr./Sr. High School welcomed back students Monday morning after an outbreak of nine cases.

An outbreak investigation at Maine School Administrative District 54, based in Skowhegan, reported four cases.

And in Regional School Unit 19, students at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport were at school and studying under a hybrid/cohort system despite an outbreak in mid-November. Administrators reported no transmission of COVID-19 between students.

RSU 18 — MESSALONSKEE HIGH SCHOOL

After an individual associated with Messalonskee High School, who was already quarantining, tested positive Monday for COVID-19, administrators immediately dismissed all students.

While the individual did not come to school after learning of his or her exposure to COVID-19 during Thanksgiving break, all students were dismissed at 12:30 p.m.

The entire Messalonskee High School student body will learn remotely through Monday, Dec. 7.

“What the message we’ve been trying to get out is that we’ve been able to stay open, and as I said in my last letter, ‘If the conditions dictate it, then we will close without hesitation’ and that’s what we did today,” Regional School Unit 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley said Monday in a telephone interview.

“The high school administration team was unbelievably prepared, the school nurse was a great resource and everything went smoothly because of the planning that’s gone on for months.”

This is the second known case of COVID-19 associated with Messalonskee High School after an individual tested positive Oct. 23.

Messalonskee High School enrolls about 750 students from Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney. About 85% of the students are attending school in person five days a week as part of the district’s hybrid learning plan. The remaining students are learning remotely.

The exposure occurred the evening of Friday, Nov. 20, according to officials. The person, who did not know of the exposure and was asymptomatic, was at school Monday, Nov. 23. District officials said they did not know if the person was positive at the time. The positive result came back Monday.

The school and the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention began contact tracing immediately. Anybody identified as a close contact has been contacted by the administration.

Messalonskee High School Principal Paula Callan said she met with her staff to share information, including that the shift to remote learning is only at the high school.

School lunches can be picked up daily at the high school, during the normal lunch hours. Gartley likened the preparation for COVID-19 exposure to preparing for any other emergency, fire or lockdown.

“It’s the same thing: You plan. You practice. And when an emergency happens, you’re ready,” Gartley said. “We hope that when we come back, we want people to feel comfortable. And if we need to close to keep people safe, we will.”

WATERVILLE ALTERNATIVE SCHOOL

A school program for teen parents that went to remote learning two weeks ago because a student had tested positive for COVID-19 might return to in-school learning Tuesday, according to Superintendent Eric Haley.

Haley said Monday in a telephone interview he learned only Monday about the COVID-19 case at the Waterville Alternative School/Teen Parent Program in Silver Street.

There are six or seven students and two teachers in the teen parent program, which is part of the alternative school program for the district but governed by the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, he said. The school system governs the alternative school itself.

The case is only the second reported within the school system. Haley announced Nov. 24 a “substitute worker” at Waterville Senior High School had tested positive and two other workers who were exposed to him earlier, on Nov. 19, at the school were in quarantine and awaiting tests.

Exposure is defined as being within 6 feet of one another for 15 minutes or more, according to Haley. That exposure occurred after school hours, he said.

On Monday, Haley posted a message on the schools’ website saying school officials were informed Monday morning an individual associated with the Waterville Alternative School/Teen Parent Program had tested positive for COVID-19.

“Members of the Waterville nursing staff have been in contact with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the individual who tested positive,” Haley’s message read. “We are following the recommendations of the CDC Guidelines which is to contact anyone who had contact with the individual who tested positive. These individuals would all be considered close contacts and must quarantine for 14 days beginning on the last day they would have been in contact with the person who recently tested positive.

“The individuals who are considered close contacts are currently being notified by school nursing personnel and will be required to quarantine until December 1, 2020. They may return to school on December 2, 2020. Due to the health and privacy rights of the individual who tested positive, we will not be releasing his/her name. We are notifying the community in an effort to eliminate any misinformation and to take the opportunity to reinforce the importance of wearing masks and face coverings, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing.”

The teen parent program is grouped separately from the alternative school, according to Haley.

There are 1,750 students in the Waterville school system, which includes the high school, Waterville Junior High School, Albert S. Hall School and George J. Mitchell School.

Cohort A students go to school every other day in person, alternating with Cohort B students; Cohort C students take all online classes, and Cohort D students attend live high school classes via Zoom every day.

Haley said the school system has had calls from parents saying their children were exposed to someone outside of school that tested positive for COVID-19. When that occurs, school officials tell them to quarantine, according to Haley.

“We’ve had some close calls,” he said. “We’ve been dodging asteroids all the time.”

Haley said the school system from the start was adamant about following safety guidelines. While the numbers have been low in Waterville schools, Haley said he is under no illusion that additional cases could arise.

“We follow the guidelines,” he said, “but some of these schools (in other districts) that are getting hit — they do, too.”

BINGHAM-BASED MSAD 13

Sandra MacArthur, the superintendent in Maine School Administrative District 13, said students at Upper Kennebec Jr./Sr. High School returned to school Monday morning for in-person learning after being sent home earlier this month due to an increase in COVID-19 infections.

MacArthur said the school has updated its policies to reflect Gov. Janet Mills’ latest mask mandate, which includes not taking as many mask breaks during the school day, encouraging students to keep masks on all day, giving shorter mask breaks than before and continuing to clean, disinfect, stress social distancing and bring outside air in through the recently updated HVAC system.

The Maine CDC confirmed in an email Monday the outbreak consisted of nine cases and the outbreak’s status was being assessed Monday.

“We continue to be very diligent and try to keep the best interest of students and staff at the forefront, and make sure that we can provide a healthy and safe learning environment,” MacArthur said Monday in a telephone interview.

The outbreak investigation was opened earlier this month. Students at the school were sent home the morning of Nov. 10 after administrators were informed of the district’s first positive case of COVID-19 among its students.

Somerset County still remains under the “yellow” designation of the Maine Department of Education’s reopening advisory system, meaning there is a moderate level of community risk and schools should consider precautions.

There are about 90 students at the junior/senior high school and 180 districtwide. Students who were studying remotely were equipped with technology and continued to study from home through Nov. 30.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, students were not scheduled to be at school between Nov. 23 and 27.

The district includes students from Athens, Bingham, Moscow and some unorganized territories.

SKOWHEGAN-BASED MSAD 54

In MSAD 54, an outbreak investigation at Skowhegan Area Middle School, which was opened last week, has unveiled four cases of COVID-19 infection.

Superintendent Jon Moody sent an email Monday, Nov. 23, to inform families the situation among sixth-graders at the school had been classified an outbreak by state health officials, but the situation has no impact on the school.

Before last week’s announcement, the entire sixth-grade class at Skowhegan Area Middle School studied remotely after district officials monitored a positive case of COVID-19 at the school.

NEWPORT-BASED RSU 19

In RSU 19, an outbreak investigation was opened at Nokomis Regional High School after Maine CDC reported six cases.

Superintendent Mike Hammer said Monday students were at school and operating under a hybrid/cohorting model.

The school, which has about 580 students from Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans, has been dealing with cases of COVID-19 for a few weeks, Hammer said.

“I would say at the height of it, we had 50 people quarantined,” he said, “but it’s been stretched out over a bit of time.”

If the school were to shift to remote learning, students are equipped with devices and hotspots, according to Hammer.

“(The cases) go back to mid-November,” he said. “We are almost on the other side of the outbreak. All of the cases have been identified, and there were a couple that we didn’t know about. Then, after a certain number, everyone seems to think it’s worse than it is.

“We talked to Maine CDC and they said we’ve handled things well. Our kids are safe and there is no transmission among students.”


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