SKOWHEGAN — An outbreak investigation has been opened at Skowhegan Area High School and Somerset Career & Technical Center after several cases of COVID-19 were recorded within a 14-day window.

The recommendation has been made to keep schools open, the superintendent said, because the individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 collectively had minimal to no exposure to other students or staff members in either facility.

Jon Moody, superintendent of Maine School Administrative District 54, sent a notice out to families Thursday evening notifying them of an outbreak investigation at Skowhegan Area High School and Somerset Career & Technical Center based on cases that had previously been reported.

The high school serves students within the district while the tech center serves Skowhegan Area High School students as well as Carrabec High School in North Anson, Madison Area Memorial High School, Upper Kennebec Valley Jr./Sr. High School in Bingham and Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield.

“Today, we were notified by Maine Centers for Disease Control & Prevention that the tech center and high school are now being classified as an ‘outbreak’ as a result of the school having ‘3 or more active cases within a 14 day window,'” Moody said in an email.

At Thursday’s board of directors meeting, Moody touched on this and shared conversations that district administrators and nurses have had with Maine CDC.

“Ultimately there have been three positive cases here, but not a lot of quarantining,” Moody said.

With the recent cases, Moody said that he cannot provide specific information, because it would make the cases identifiable.

The district provides a breakdown of COVID-19 cases on its website that is updated periodically. To date, there have been 23 positive cases of COVID-19 within the district, 11 among students and 12 among staff members. At Somerset Career and Technical Center, two cases have been reported. This number is reported separately, the website says, because they are coming from other districts. There have also been 13 positive cases of the coronavirus among individuals who contracted the virus outside of school and were never at school while sick or contagious.

This comes as the Maine CDC reported 301 additional cases of COVID-19 within the state Thursday.

When possible, Moody will identify where the cases are or if they’re among students or staff. If the information makes the positive case identifiable, he will not share that information.

“I don’t think all schools necessarily do a full call every time they have a case. We’ve done that to try to be transparent,” Moody said.

In conversations with Maine CDC, Moody said though there is an outbreak investigation at the high school, how the school handles COVID-19 protocols will not change.

“The ‘outbreak’ status itself does not mean that schools need to necessarily change what they are doing,” Moody said.

“There has been an increase in cases in our community, and this has resulted in an increase in cases coming into school.”

In other business, Moody discussed updates on the new school construction and looking ahead to the district budget planning for the upcoming year, which will begin next month.

North Elementary School, at 33 Jewett St., qualified for the state’s Major Capital School Construction program, ranking No. 2 out of 74 schools. Completed in 1954, the school originally served students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It now serves about 165 students in prekindergarten and kindergarten.

The only decision that has officially been made on the project is that North Elementary School’s current site is not an option for the district to consider due to the size of the property. Administrators and a board of directors committee recently met with architects to look over several possible sites for the construction.

Moody said Thursday that a property on Middle Road and where the Margaret Chase Smith School currently sits are two options that are being considered. These options have been narrowed down from a list with a few additional sites, including locations on the district’s campus on West Front Street, a site off of U.S. Route 201 and the site that North Elementary currently occupies.

For the Margaret Chase Smith School site to be an option, the district needs to acquire land adjacent to the school, which is located in a 6F area reserved for recreational purposes. Should the arrangement happen, the district would need to relocate the ball fields now on the property.

Moody said Thursday that this is still a work in progress and that he plans to discuss the valuation of the fields and other information with the town manager by the end of the week and provide the board with additional updates at the next meeting.

If the Margaret Chase Smith School site were to be used for a new school, Moody has previously said that the money that might have been used for purchasing land can be used to fund the movement of the fields being lost to the new school.

MSAD 54 serves the communities of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan.

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