CAMDEN, Maine — The brand new Camden Middle School opened just two weeks ago with nearly all students attending classes in person. There are extensive health precautions in place, including mandatory masks, social distance and eight different lunch periods to reduce crowding.
Students and staff are also required to submit health status reports every morning. But despite all those steps, one case of COVID-19 got through.
On Saturday, school leaders learned one person (they won’t say if it is a student or staff member) tested positive for the coronavirus. It was one case, but after consulting with the Maine CDC, school officials decided to have the entire 8th grade quarantine at home for two weeks to be safe. 12 teachers were also told to quarantine.
Superintendent Maria Libby said the determination was based on how many people had close contact with the sick individual before that person left school last Wednesday.
The 80 8th graders join a few classmates who were already taking classes remotely, and now all are studying at home, with teachers delivering lessons online. Libby said students and teachers have had lots of practice with remote learning because of the pandemic, so the change was not difficult.
Libby and Principal Jaime Stone said they decided to quarantine the entire grade out of an abundance of caution, but after more recent discussions with the Maine CDC, they think they might have been able to keep some at school.
“And we cast a really broad net under the advisement of the CDC,” said Stone, “and we absolutely had more people testing than we might in a future case. We learned a lot and so did the CDC.”
Libby said CDC officials have also told her they learned some lessons from the Camden situation and might change some protocols as a result.
But the Superintendent defended their decisions because of the need to protect the rest of the school, to make sure the other three grades can continue taking classes in person, as they have been doing since the school year began.
“The most important thing for us in our priorities is to enable children to attend school in person. We are doing all we can to enable that to happen because we think its best for safety, best for students to attend in person, and I think it’s a reminder how fragile that is,” Libby said, adding that it shows how the entire community needs to be part of actions to keep the virus out of the school.
The 5th, 6th, and 7th grades continue to attend classes in person at the middle school as usual.