Monomoy, Cape Tech, Nauset Schools Closing After Report Of Cape's First COVID-19 Case

By: Kat Szmit

Monomoy Regional School District.

UPDATED MARCH 14, 8 p.m.

In an email to parents from Superintendent Dr. Scott Carpenter, the Monomoy Regional School District announced Saturday that schools will close as of Monday. The Nauset Public Schools will also be closing as of March 16.

On Friday, Superintendent Robert Sanborn confirmed that Cape Cod Regional Technical High School will be closed for two weeks beginning March 16. Students will be working remotely using Google Classroom.

Carpenter's email to district families came just a few hours after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Cape Cod was revealed by Cape Cod Healthcare, who did not disclose the person's town of residence, age, or other personal information. 

"Our plan as been to remain open until the Cape saw the first case of COVID-19, using every precious moment to help our staff, students, parents, and community transition to prolonged remote operations of our schools," Carpenter wrote. "A confirmed case of COVID-19 on the Cape today and reports from our Boards of Health now find Monomoy and the Lower Cape schools closing effective Monday, March 16."

Carpenter went on to state that until March 23, schools will use their allotted snow days as educators prepare for a transition from classroom teaching to remote learning, to begin March 23. Carpenter said he doesn't anticipate a short closure.

"Looking at how school closures have played out in the state of Washington and overseas, where this outbreak surfaced prior to making its way to the Cape, it is unrealistic to think that closing for two weeks will provide the time necessary to see an end of COVID-19 in our region," he said. "Staff, students, and families must prepare for schools being closed until at least the end of April Vacation (April 27).  I hope we will be in a position to reopen our schools earlier than that if there is clear evidence that social isolation has contained community spread of COVID-19, but the timeline in other areas leaves me less than optimistic." 

Nauset Superintendent Thomas Conrad posted a letter regarding the closing of Nauset Public Schools on Saturday evening as well.

"In my continuous monitoring of the situation with the COVID-19 virus, I had hoped we would be able to get a few more days of school in this upcoming week before the crisis got any worse, which would have allowed us more valuable time with students and to be even better prepared for an extended closure," he wrote. "However, developments over the past day, including the first case of COVID-19 being confirmed by Cape Cod Hospital today, have caused me to make the decision to temporarily close all schools in the Nauset School District, effective this Monday, March 16 for a period of at least two weeks, up through Sunday, March 29. The closure is likely to be extended through April vacation, dependent upon how the situation evolves."

Conrad added that while he hadn't been informed as to whether the person with COVID-19 had any connections to the region, he has "no doubt" that there will be more confirmed cases in the days to come. Conrad said that while schools will be closed to students, staff will be reporting to work as usual in order to move forward with plans for remote learning and other student support services. Conrad expected to have updated information for district families by Thursday.

In the Monomoy Regional School District, a slew of events had already been canceled, including celebratory banquets for athletic teams, the Winter Sports Awards Night, slated for March 13, the senior class trip to Philadelphia, and the school’s spring musical production of “Les Misérables.” The plan was to tape a production of the show and share it with families, but with the closure, those plans remain unclear. The closure also sets back even further the spring athletic season, which the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association had already pushed back to March 30.

Carpenter has been sending weekly emails with updates on Coronavirus protocols and cancellations. In the March 14 email, Carpenter urged the community to "prepare for the long haul."

"Please take this closure and the need to socially isolate seriously and prepare for the long haul," he said. "Monday evening we will be sharing a detailed plan on our transition to remote operations and how we will be supporting our students, families, and staff during this unprecedented time. Remote learning is no substitute for the magic that happens every day in our classrooms, but we are going to do our best to maintain learning, connection, and social-emotional supports under challenging circumstances.  Our students and staff will truly be learning to do something new together. It won’t be perfect, but we will make the best of a bad situation."

On March 13, there had been a conference call for education administrators across the state and the Commissioner of Education and the Department of Public Health. During that call, it was advised, according to the update, that “school districts should consider closures when a student or staff member has tested positive for coronavirus, when a member of a household of a student or staff member has tested positive, or when there is a ‘sustained community spread.’”

“We want to play a role in not having this snowball, and to give people in the sciences time to prepare a vaccine to help everybody,” Carpenter said. “We're doing our part to help slow the progress, while having a balance that allows our community to continue to function during all of this.”

Carpenter said deep cleaning procedures have been adopted at each of Mononoy’s schools, from the elementary level to the high school, with the custodial staff taking care to wipe down surfaces that receive regular contact, such as doorknobs, desks, cafeteria tables, and drinking fountains.

With regard to students on free and reduced lunch plans, Carpenter said that since the district owns its own buses, something akin to a Meals on Wheels-type of system is in the works. Kitchen staffers able to come in will prepare breakfasts and lunches, which will then be delivered by bus via the already known routes to students in need.

“[We want] to make sure that everybody gets 180 days of their breakfasts and lunches so that nobody is going hungry,” Carpenter said.

For students with the most significant challenges, such as those with intensive special needs, should the school buildings be closed, educators are weighing an option to create a space for such students in one of the empty buildings.

“Because our buildings might be essentially devoid of children, we might continue to provide intensive special needs services. We're trying to work out the logistics, just in case,” Carpenter said. “Hopefully we're developing a plan we never have to use, but we’re trying to be proactive.”

While large group gatherings are being cancelled, Carpenter said the spring athletic season will still take place, though with a later start date, per the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), which this week pushed back tryouts and practices to March 30.

Of concern is the school’s June 7 graduation, traditionally held on the front side lawn under a sprawling tent. Carpenter said that one possibility would be to eschew the tent, which would allow people in the crowd to spread out a bit.

“When it comes to graduation, I would hope that we can still make happen,” Carpenter said. “Hopefully we're at a better place with this in June.”

MRHS Principal Bill Burkhead said he’s been in constant contact with Carpenter regarding coronavirus protocols and has been working with his staff to issue consistent messages to students on the importance of hand washing.

Burkhead said that student safety is the top concern.

“We're making decisions as we go,” he said. “It's our first priority.”