DURHAM — Regional School Unit 5 decided last week to move Durham Community School sixth-grade teachers and students to online learning due to a student there testing positive for COVID-19.

Superintendent Becky Foley announced on Thursday that a student who attends the pre-K through grade 8 school in Durham recently tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

“Due to the number of teachers identified as close contacts to this most recent case, it requires us to switch to remote instruction for our sixth-grade staff and students at DCS,” Foley said.

That announcement came on the heals of Foley’s Jan. 5 letter to students and families informing them of a COVID-19 outbreak at Freeport High School, which serves students in Freeport, Durham and Pownal.

“An outbreak means that there are three or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 from different households within a 14-day period,” Foley wrote at the time.

According to the letter Foley sent to RSU 5 families Monday, 17 of students and two teachers have tested positive for COVID-19 since the return to school in September. In the past 14 days, RSU 5 has had three positive student cases.

“I am asking that our families try and restrict their child’s social gatherings as much as possible outside of school,” Foley wrote in her letter Monday. “While in school, we are practicing social distancing, mask wearing, and frequent hand washing, thus reducing transmission of the virus. I urge our families to follow the same protocols when their child is socializing outside of school. This may help us from having to move to remote learning at the high school.”

There had been 24,679 confirmed and 4,932 probable COVID-19 cases total in Maine as of Sunday. As of Jan. 3, Freeport has had a total of 130 COVID-19 cases, Durham has had 45 cases and Pownal has had between six and 19 cases, according to the Maine CDC.

Foley said Pownal Elementary School is back to in-person instruction five days a week as are pre-K, Kindergarten and grades 1 and 5 at Durham Community School. The remaining grades have in-person instruction two-and-a-half days a week and remote the other days.

Estimating that Durham Community School has about 40 students per grade, Foley said the teachers rotate between those students, divided into two or three cohorts. When a student tests positive for COVID-19 and has been in close contact with all those sixth-grade teachers who have to self-quarantine, there are no teachers to teach the other 20 students in the other class, “and we can’t find enough subs,” Foley said.

The school district previously moved grades at Mast Landing School and Freeport Middle School to remote-only learning for the same reason, Foley said.

Foley said she believes the uptick in recent cases in RSU 5 is due to social gatherings taking place where safety protocols are not being followed, including holiday gatherings.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has an open outbreak associated with Freeport High School but not any other schools in RSU 5 according to Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long. He couldn’t confirm if cases are spiking in Maine schools due to people traveling or gathering during Christmas break.

“Anecdotally, our case investigators are hearing that some of the people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 had traveled during the holidays or attended a holiday gathering, but it’s still too early to assess the impact of the recent holidays on overall COVID-19 transmission in Maine,” Long said Monday.


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