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Coronavirus causes two schools to go remote

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/19/2020 11:18:43 PM
Modified: 10/19/2020 11:18:36 PM

LYME — Two Upper Valley schools that announced COVID-19 cases over the weekend have temporarily switched from in-person to remote instruction for at least some grades due to staffing issues brought about by health precautions.

Lyme officials announced a case of COVID-19 at the Lyme School on Saturday, the same day Orange East Supervisory Union Superintendent Emilie Knisley notified members of the Oxbow High School community of a case in a staff member there.

Lyme School Principal Jeff Valence said the change means that the 88 students in grades 5 through 8 at the K-8 Lyme School will be learning online until Oct. 30. Students in kindergarten through 4th grade are continuing to learn in person, Valence said.

Lyme middle school teachers spent the weekend and Monday preparing to move to remote instruction, which was set to start on Tuesday, Valence said.

The school was working with community organizations to help support families to address any needs they might have as a result of the change, such as food, financial issues or child care, he said.

At Oxbow, which serves students in grades 7-12 from both Bradford and Newbury, Vt., classes are being taught remotely through this Friday, due to staffing reasons.

“To be clear, we have made the decision to go to remote learning for the week for operational reasons — not because we have any information that points to a need to go remote to stop the spread of COVID in our community,” Knisley wrote in a Sunday message to the community.

The high school, which has about 300 students, now has several staff members in quarantine.

Knisley told families on Saturday that no students were in close contact with the infected person. Moving to a remote format allows teachers to continue to teach their students, rather than inviting substitutes into the building who may not be comfort able there during the pandemic.

“We have many substitutes who are reluctant to come in right now, and we can sympathize with their position,” Knisley wrote. “We value and appreciate the hard work of our substitutes; they are essential to our work.”

River Bend Career and Technical Center, also in Bradford, is operating on a hybrid schedule and requires a health check at the door, according to its Facebook page.

Concerns about school staffing were on the minds of school administrators before the school year began, in part because many substitute teachers are retired and of an age that makes them at increased risk of developing serious symptoms should they contract COVID-19.

Officials at both Oxbow and Lyme schools emphasized that transmission is not believed to be occurring within the schools themselves, but the schools are affected by transmission elsewhere. They said their protocols — including social distancing, wearing masks and frequent hand washing — are working to prevent the virus’ spread.

“Really, the schools have not seen any transmissions,” said Dr. Antonia Altomare, a Lyme parent, member of the Lyme School’s COVID-19 task force and an infectious disease specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

She said schools expected to see isolated cases such as this, and the important thing is for the schools to reduce the impact on the community and school.

“We knew that this would happen,” she said.

Knisley, in her Sunday message, asked that Oxbow community members monitor themselves for symptoms, seek testing when necessary, wear masks and keep a safe distance from others.

“Again, this case did not originate in the school or the communities of Bradford and Newbury, but we should all remain vigilant nonetheless,” she said.

Valence, the Lyme principal, said he encourages families to re-assess any activities they might be participating in outside of school to determine, “Is the activity a necessity?”

If so, he said he asks that they redouble efforts to prevent the virus’ spread.

The Oxbow and Lyme cases and their associated temporary shift to remote learning comes as other Upper Valley schools are increasing their amount of in-person instruction.

The Lebanon School District — which earlier this month reported two cases of COVID-19 — is slated to reopen to five-day-a-week in-person instruction on Oct. 26, after the School Board narrowly voted, 5-4, to stick with that plan.

The White River Valley Supervisory Union, beginning on Monday, extended the length of the school day for elementary students and expanded to four days of in-person instruction for middle and high school students.

Also on Monday, the Vermont Department of Health released its weekly report of COVID-19 cases in the state’s schools which included one recovered case at The Sharon Academy. Head of School Mary Newman said TSA learned of the case on Oct. 5 but made no changes to school operations because the person with COVID-19 had not been on campus while infectious.

TSA is using a hybrid model of instruction with a mix of in-person and remote learning, according to its website. Its middle school, however, will move to online learning in December to allow for the installation of a new ventilation system.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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