Schools Close Amid Coronavirus Concerns; Meal Programs Available

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: Education , Monomoy Regional High School , Cape Cod Tech , Monomoy Regional Middle School , Chatham Elementary School , Harwich Elementary School , Nauset Regional School District , Barnstable County , Orleans Elementary School , Nauset Regional Middle School , Nauset Regional High School , Nauset High School , Community Sustainability

Monomoy Regional School District.

The halls of local schools are largely empty this week after concerns about COVID-19, the virus that causes coronavirus, continue to impact communities at the local, state and national level.

In an email to parents from Superintendent Dr. Scott Carpenter, the Monomoy Regional School District announced Saturday that schools would close as of March 16, likely through the end of the district’s April vacation, with Nauset Public Schools and Cape Cod Regional Technical High School following suit, with Cape Tech planning on a two-week closure per Superintendent Robert Sanborn.

While Monomoy and Nauset students in the middle and high school grades will be utilizing remote learning, likely through video, Cape Tech students will be working remotely using Google Classroom. Both Monomoy and Nauset will also be providing grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals to all students.

Monomoy Regional Middle School Principal Mark Wilson sent out a message to families on March 17 explaining that a plan for remote learning is in the works and will include information on how to access online lessons and activities, how students can obtain a Chromebook for home use, and how to get assistance for various needs while not in school.

Carpenter's email to district families said 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 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.

Both Monomoy and Nauset are offering “grab and go” meal services for all district families with children 18 years and under, available at several locations. In the Monomoy district, parents can pick up meals at Monomoy Regional Middle School at 425 Crowell Rd. in Chatham, or at Monomoy Regional High School at 75 Oak St. in Harwich between 9 a.m. and noon daily, Monday through Friday. In the Nauset district, families may visit Eddy Elementary School at 2298 Main St. in Brewster, Orleans Elementary School at 46 Eldredge Park Way in Orleans, Eastham Elementary School at 200 Schoolhouse Rd. in Eastham, or Wellfleet Elementary School at 100 Lawrence Rd. in Wellfleet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In each case, parents are asked to remain in their vehicles. Meals will be brought directly to waiting cars and include bagged breakfasts and lunches in compliance with USDA School Lunch Guidelines.

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, as do plans for the middle school musical “Aladdin.”

The closure also sets the spring sports seasons at area schools even further back given that the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association amended its original start date of March 30 to a new start date of April 27, with tournaments to be played in mid to late June.

Carpenter has been sending weekly emails with updates on Coronavirus protocols and cancellations. In his 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. "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."

Carpenter said that in the days prior to the closures, deep cleaning procedures had been adopted at each of Mononoy’s schools, from the elementary level to the high school. With schools shuttered, further cleaning, including the use of sanitizing foggers, was planned.

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.

With Governor Charlie Baker prohibiting large group gatherings of more than 25 people, there are concerns regarding Nauset’s June 6 and Monomoy’s June 7 graduation ceremonies. Nauset’s service is traditionally held in the school gymnasium, while Monomoy’s is 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.”

Along with providing an update regarding remote learning, Wilson encouraged students to “Do the Five” steps to help keep the virus from spreading: HANDS – wash them often; ELBOW – cough into it; FACE – don’t touch it; FEET – stay more than six feet apart from others; FEEL sick? Stay home.