Cape Elizabeth High School will be closed Friday so custodial staff can carry out a “deep cleaning” of the building, a step necessitated by a high rate of absenteeism linked to a COVID-19 outbreak that sent dozens of students and staff home sick.

The announcement by the Cape Elizabeth School District Thursday night followed an emergency meeting of the Cape Elizabeth School Board to consider making mask wearing mandatory at district schools.

While the board voted against imposing a mask mandate, board members voted 6-0 to “highly recommend masks” be worn in schools deemed to be in outbreak status by the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommending that masks be worn during a COVID outbreak represents a change from earlier this year when the board required masks be worn in schools during outbreaks.

Thursday’s emergency meeting was held after school officials learned that more than 20 percent of the high school population, including students and teachers, missed school this week with illness.

Superintendent Christopher Record sent a letter to the school community Wednesday that said 21 percent of students, or 126 students, and six staff members were out of school due to illness.

“None of us wanted to be in this situation,” Record wrote. “However, I know we are all concerned with the welfare of our students and staff. Any time absences due to any type of illness are over 15 percent, we are required to report this to the Maine Department of Education and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”


Record shared a letter with the Press Herald that was sent to the Cape Elizabeth school community following the board’s emergency meeting.

“We recognize that many of you will appreciate masks remaining a family/individuals decision and others will be disappointed with the board decision,” Record wrote. “Let’s continue to try to support each other even when we disagree.”

The state determined Cape Elizabeth High School to be in a COVID outbreak on Wednesday, Record said. He was informed of the state’s determination on Thursday.

“Outbreak status is defined by the MCDC as greater than or equal to 15 percent absenteeism among students and staff in a school in a single day where the majority of those absences are due to a specific illness,” Record said. “Currently, there are 16 plus COVID cases at Cape Elizabeth High School. To leave outbreak status a school needs to have 14 straight calendar days with less than 15 percent absenteeism among students and staff due to COVID-19 cases and or COVID-like illness.”

Flu season has begun and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both the flu and COVID-19 exhibit similar symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat. People infected with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms and could be contagious for longer periods-. The only way to determine the difference is to be tested.

Record said the high school will be closed Friday to allow custodial staff to conduct a deep cleaning of the building. The district also said there will be no virtual classes for high school students on Friday and all indoor afternoon and evening events that were planned have been canceled. The decision to close the high school on Friday will not affect the middle school or Pond Cove Elementary School. Students at both of those schools will have in-person classes Friday. High school teachers, however, are expected to report to work at the high school on Friday, the district said.

“We will continue to disinfect high-touch surfaces and encourage hand washing,” Record wrote. “We also strongly recommend families and individuals consider wearing masks while indoors at school until we are through this spike in illness. … While we cannot control what happens in the greater community, we do hope voluntary mask wearing from our students and staff will help curb the spread of the various viruses and help keep Cape Elizabeth High School open.”

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