GROTON – Officials at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School made the decision to send its students back to fully remote learning for a short time after a mass gathering of students on New Year’s Eve.
Principal Michael Woodlock confirmed Tuesday morning that district officials made the decision to send students back home until Monday.
Laura Chesson, superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, said she was alerted Sunday evening to the fact that several high-school students attended an event on New Year’s Eve that violated state policies on indoor gatherings. Officials also learned students from other school districts were at the gathering.
Chesson said the move to go back to fully-remote learning was because she and district officials were notified of the incident so late on Sunday, preventing them from performing contact tracing to get specific information.
“Our number-one priority is the safety of our students and staff,” Woodlock said. “We want nothing more than for our students to be back in the building and our athletics program up and running, but we want all possible information brought to us first.”
Chesson sent a message to parents alerting them of the change Sunday night around 9 p.m. According to the message, Chesson and the district received confirmation that “at least one student” who attended the New Year’s Eve event tested positive for the coronavirus, though there was no confirmation as to which Groton-Dunstable students attended the event and who they came into close contact with at the time.
On Tuesday, Chesson clarified that the one student who tested positive did so after the gathering. She couldn’t share further information about whether or not the gathering took place in Groton or how many Groton-Dunstable High School students actually attended the gathering due to confidentiality concerns. She and district officials are continuing to investigate the situation.
“I am aware that it seems unfair for all students to be negatively affected by the actions of a small number of students, but given we do not know which students were in attendance and which were not, we must take action to protect them all,” Chesson said in her message. “We urge all parents to help support us in our efforts to keep our students learning in person. While we can take every step to keep students safe at school, we rely on our parents and guardians to keep our students safe outside of school.”
Woodlock said Groton-Dunstable had been operating on a hybrid method of remote and in-person learning before this week. Students were divided into groups, with one group attending classes in person Mondays and Wednesdays, while the other group stayed remote. The other group would then do in-person learning on Tuesdays and Thursdays while the original group did remote learning those days. Fridays had all students working remotely.
Chesson noted that students and staff throughout the district have responded well to the hybrid model this year, not to mention the social distancing and mask-wearing while in the schools. She added that there have been a “very low” number of students or staff testing positive within school walls thanks to people following guidelines and being “very forthcoming” during contact tracing.
“I think the community feels that we’re handling their children and the adults in staff with the utmost safety,” Chesson said.
She anticipates the high school going back to the hybrid model next Monday.