READFIELD — After three schools in Regional School Unit 38 had to switch to remote learning this past week, Superintendent Jay Charette wants to “make it clear” it was due to the combination of the high number of COVID-19 cases reported in the district and the high staff absentee rate.

“We have kept schools open when cases have risen by our mitigation procedures. We have kept schools open with high staff illness due to the sacrifice of our staff and their dedication to knowing students need to be in school. However, this week has provided the biggest challenge, with both high case counts and high staff absentee,” Charette said.

In the past week, through Jan. 21, the district reported 66 student COVID-19 cases and 13 staff cases.

Maranacook Community Middle School, Readfield Elementary and Manchester Elementary switched to remote learning through Friday. Charette said the schools are expected to return Monday, but the district is closely monitoring the status of each school ahead of the school week.

Mt. Vernon Elementary School, also part of RSU 38, has been identified as “outbreak status.” Per the updated Maine Center for Disease Control guidelines, an outbreak is defined as 15% of the school is absent in a single day due to COVID-19. The school will stay in the status for two weeks after the absentee percentage drops below 15%.

Charette advises everyone to act “as if they have been exposed” to COVID-19.

Advertisement

“It is the reality of our current situation as we navigate this spike in cases,” he wrote. “Wear a mask correctly, practice hand hygiene and socially distance as much as possible. Communicate with your building nurse if your student develops symptoms. We will make it through this last wave with everyone’s continued vigilance.”

Charette reminded the community about the new standard operating procedures that went into effect after winter recess, including the new procedure for close contacts, where schools do not have to notify close contacts, and the five-day isolation period instead of 10 day period.

To date, this school year there has been 291 student cases and 67 staff cases reported. The Department of Education has RSU 38’s total number of students in the district at 1,079 for the school year ending in 2021.

Regional School Unit 38 includes Readfield, Manchester, Mt. Vernon and Wayne.

RSU 38 is not the only school district in the Augusta-area to see a spike in COVID-19 cases in the past week.

Regional School Unit 2 reported on Friday 124 COVID-19 cases district wide — the district includes Hallowell, Farmingdale, Dresden, Richmond and Monmouth.

Advertisement

In Winthrop Public Schools, Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said at the school committee meeting Wednesday that the Winthrop Grade School is in outbreak status. There were 42 total student cases last week among the three schools. In the week of Jan. 14, there were 61 total student cases.

But even though schools are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases within the past couple of weeks, the DOE is still adamant over schools being one of the more guarded places one can be because of the layers of protection against the virus schools put in place through universal masking, pool testing and social distancing.

“It is not about the school, it’s about anywhere that people are interacting, given the transmissibility of the latest variant,” said DOE Director of Communications Marcus Mrowka. “Unlike most public sectors, schools have been, and continue to implement the layers of strategies that have been proven the reduce the transmission of COVID-19.”

Mrowka continued, “Our message remains consistent that universal masking, getting vaccinated and staying home if sick are the most important steps people can take to keep classrooms and schools safe and open.”

Schools are not the only area seeing an uptick in cases — the state has so many positive tests to go through, officials can not keep up. In the past two weeks, Maine has averaged 2,000 cases per day.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.