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At Mass. schools, officials face challenges brought on by COVID-19 early in year

Students arrived for the first day of in-person classes at Lee Middle and High School on Wednesday.
Students arrived for the first day of in-person classes at Lee Middle and High School on Wednesday.Stephanie Zollshan/Associated Press

Two Massachusetts regional high schools struggled with challenges brought on by the pandemic Sunday, as more than 80 students and staff were quarantined following a COVID-19 case on Cape Cod, while police in Sudbury considered charges in connection with a large party that delayed in-person education there.

And in Arlington, officials at the Peirce Elementary School announced late Sunday afternoon that classes would begin remotely Monday after a staff member tested positive for the disease. That person is isolating for 10 days, while six other workers who had close contact with that employee will also quarantine.

The coronavirus issues affecting Monomoy Regional High School and Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School illustrate the difficulty that school leaders face in trying to bring students into classrooms, as the state Sunday reported 15 new deaths and 340 additional cases of the disease.

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In Sudbury, police Chief Scott Nix said Sunday that police are “strongly considering” charges against a teenager and the teen’s parents in connection with a large party on Sept. 11 that forced Lincoln-Sudbury school officials to delay in-person classes over COVID-19 exposure concerns.

Although no case of the disease has been connected with the party, Nix called on people to be considerate of others, in a phone interview Sunday: Not only have the teen and the teen’s parents faced threats over social media and e-mail because of the gathering, but some police who responded to the scene that night were also threatened, he said.

“People need to be accountable for their actions, but one thing that is lacking in society is just mutual respect,” Nix said.

At Monomoy, which serves Chatham and Harwich, 77 students and seven staff members were asked to quarantine after officials reported the school’s first case of COVID-19, which was diagnosed just days after the term began, said Scott Carpenter, superintendent of the Monomoy Regional Schools, in an e-mail Sunday.

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The person who tested positive for the disease had “only mild allergy-like symptoms,” and had contracted the disease from an out-of-state guest, not from school, he said. Officials haven’t disclosed whether the person is a student or staff member, he said.

In a letter to families Saturday, school officials said they were notified Friday night that an individual in the high school had tested positive for the disease. The case was reported Saturday by the Cape Cod Times.

“We will be responding to this scenario and any future ones with a conservative stance and will be quarantining all students and staff in identified classrooms out of an abundance of caution, even if students weren’t seated in the vicinity of the positive student,” the letter said.

As schools across Massachusetts reopen this month, metrics being watched by health officials are far below the highs reported last spring.

But the coronavirus threat continues: The state has reported 9,100 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19, 125,479 confirmed cases as of Sunday.

The seven-day average positive rate for molecular tests has remained steady for the past few days, holding at .8 percent as of Saturday, where that average has remained since Wednesday.

Fears over the coronavirus in Sudbury following the Sept. 11 party forced officials to delay in-person classes at the high school from Sept. 15 to Sept. 29, said Bella Wong, the regional district’s superintendent, in a letter posted to the website of a parents group affiliated with the school.

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Nix said Sunday that about 50 to 60 people were at the party when police arrived on the scene, while 20 to 30 others fled. Officers didn’t see anyone wearing masks or practicing distancing, he said, but found underage people consuming alcohol and using marijuana.

Nix said that, with the focus on the coronavirus, people have lost sight about the widespread use of alcohol and drugs at the party.

“Had anybody been allowed to drive off while intoxicated, that could have resulted in an immediate tragic circumstance,” Nix said.

During the police response that night, some attendees told two of the four officers at the scene that they “should kill” the officers, Nix said.

“There were other partygoers that quelled these statements, which we commend,” Nix said.

Officials have said that some of those who attended did not give their real names to officers, which has complicated efforts to assess the risk to the Lincoln-Sudbury school community.

Nix said police are still investigating the party, and police are collaborating with Sudbury’s Health Department.

Both the teen and the teen’s parents, who owned the property, were at the party, Nix said. Police have not released their identities, he said. If police moved forward on filing charges related to the party, Nix said they would do so under the state’s social host law.

On Cape Cod, Carpenter and Jennifer Police, the school’s principal, told Monomoy families in a letter that the coronavirus can present with very mild cold or allergy-like symptoms. They asked anyone whose child shows symptoms to contact the school nurse.

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Over the past week, the student body and staff have been closely adhering to the safety protocols of mask wearing, hand washing, and physical distancing, they said.

The high school has a comprehensive plan that involves sanitizing the building, informing families whose students were at risk of exposure or in close contact, and supporting the affected family as they “navigate this stressful experience,” according to the letter.

Contact tracers for the district’s towns will be following up and will work with local health departments and school nurses, the letter said.

Students who quarantine at home will attend school remotely, according to the letter.

In Arlington, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said in a statement that the Peirce Elementary School will begin a fully remote learning model Monday and continue until Sept. 30.

The town’s Board of Health provided free, voluntary COVID-19 tests on Wednesday and Thursday to school staff, and one staff member tested positive.

“We’re relieved and grateful we identified this case prior to the start of school, although we know this change poses challenges for our Peirce Elementary families and staff,” Bodie said. “Ultimately this is what our district needs to do and we appreciate everyone’s cooperation and understanding.”


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.