Freeport High School moves to online learning as COVID-19 outbreak continues

FREEPORT — All Freeport High School students will attend classes online until at least Jan. 19 after two more students tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

According to Regional School Unit 5 Superintendent Becky Foley, a student who tested positive on Monday may have come into contact with students and staff, and close contacts will be notified.

Another student who tested positive on Tuesday was not at school when they were contagious.

“In RSU 5, we are now at 15 confirmed, and three probable for a total of 18 of our students having tested positive for COVID-19 since the return to school in September,” Foley wrote in a letter to families Tuesday. “With the two staff members testing positive, we are at 20 total positive cases in RSU 5. In the past 14 days, we have had four positive student cases districtwide; three of which were at Freeport High School.”

Foley said Freeport High School plans to reopen for in-person learning on Tuesday, as long as no other students or staff test positive before then.

Despite the recent rise in COVID-19 in the district, Foley said she’d prefer to have students in school when possible.

“I feel strongly that our schools are safe and that this is where our students learn best,” said Foley. “We feel like the safety protocols that we’ve worked hard to create over the summer are working. We don’t believe we’ve had in-school transmission.”

Due to the ongoing cases, Foley asked parents to restrict their students’ social gatherings outside of school, where she believes COVID-19 transmission between students is more likely.

“They’re teenagers and we know there are social gatherings taking place outside of school where safety protocols aren’t necessarily being followed,” Foley said.

“While in school, we are practicing social distancing, mask wearing and frequent hand washing, thus reducing transmission of the virus,” Foley wrote. “I urge our families to follow the same protocols when their child is socializing outside of school.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention identified a COVID-19 outbreak at Freeport High School on Jan. 5, according to Foley.

“An outbreak means that there are three or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 from different households within a 14-day period,” Foley wrote. “For us to no longer be in ‘outbreak’ status, Freeport High School has to remain without additional qualifying cases for fourteen days.”

Freeport High School was following a part-time in-person and online learning model in which students are in school for two days each week. RSU 5 which serves Freeport, Pownal and Durham.

While children can transmit COVID-19, both Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah and Amina Hanna, a pediatrician at Mid Coast Hospital, have maintained COVID-19 isn’t being transmitted between students in schools.

“It’s not so much transmission from child-to-child happening within a classroom,” Hanna told the RSU 1 school board last week. “They have a parent who goes to work, contracts it, and then they’re sick and they’re around their children and they spread it that way.”

As of Sunday, 144 people in Freeport have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic reached Maine in March, according to the Maine CDC.

Cumberland County has seen 9,436 COVID-19 cases — the most in the state — and 117 deaths as of Thursday, the Maine CDC reported.

Statewide, 31,958 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 461 have died as of Thursday.

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