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Arundel school moving to remote learning for week after COVID-19 cases lead to 143 close contacts

Mildred L. Day Elementary in RSU 21 was closed for instruction Tuesday, as families picked up laptops and instructional materials.

ARUNDEL, Maine — Mildred L. Day Elementary in Arundel is moving to remote learning through September 12 due to four COVID-19 cases that resulted in 143 close contacts, according to the district's superintendent.

The school was cleaned on Monday. On Tuesday, families picked up laptops and instructional materials outside. The school is expected to reopen to in-person learning on September 13.

District staff are asking close contacts who are unvaccinated and not a pooled testing participant to quarantine from school and non-school activities for 10 full days from last exposure to the positive individual. A negative test result does not get an individual out of quarantine.

The school board called a special meeting on Labor Day to discuss the issue.

"I knew this was due to come, but not this soon," said school board member Dawn Therrien during Monday's meeting. "I send my own children into these schools, so I understand it."

Assistant Superintendent Anita Bernhardt said the cases did originate inside the school, and that some were breakthrough cases, where people who had been fully vaccinated were still infected. 

"That is very troubling because it tells us volumes about the strength of the delta variant," Bernhardt said during the meeting.

She said 76 percent of her staff have responded to whether they are vaccinated: they have not heard from the other 24 percent. Of the 76 percent, she said 96 percent reported that they had been vaccinated.

Principal Kyle Keenan said the younger students, such as kindergarteners, face a particular challenge due to this disruption of in-person learning.

"The priority was about building community, making kids feel safe, welcomed," Keenan said on Monday.

A Maine Department of Education spokesperson said they issued a form to superintendents and school directors, asking them to report any COVID-19-related school closures this year.

Staff at RSU 21 hope that pooled testing will help cut down on the number of students who have to quarantine.

They said they plan to start pooled testing on Monday, Sept. 13, due to a delay in shipping the antigen tests they needed to start that process.

Portland High School was also closed Tuesday due to contact tracing of COVID-19 cases from over Labor Day weekend.