Caribou elementary school pushed to distance learning by epidemics of extracurricular sports

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CARIBOU, Maine – Caribou’s K-8 school will be remote from Thursday until at least September 24 following exposures and the spread of COVID-19 during after-school sports and other extracurricular activities.

In a school of 722, nearly a third of the students were absent Wednesday.

There have been nine active cases of COVID-19 among the student body at Caribou Community School, with 166 children and about eight teachers in quarantine as close contacts, RSU 39 Superintendent Tim Doak said Wednesday afternoon. Another 58 children were absent from school – some for regular appointments and others who called due to illness.

RSU 39 decided to put on masks in its schools before the students at Caribou Community School return to class, but most cases and exposures occur after school during sports – when children are not not required to wear masks – and other activities, Doak said. The district will not yet impose masks for its outdoor fall sports, but Doak said it was likely that in winter indoor sports would require face coverings and again limit spectators.

Statewide, the spread of COVID-19 among athletes – especially those who aren’t vaccinated – has thrown a wrench in fall sports leagues across the state and created a planning nightmare as athletic directors try to get around unforeseeable cancellations and postponements.

“I put all my trust in the Maine Principals Association for its advice and professionalism… [but] I think it would be impossible for us to do indoor sports without masks, ”Doak said. “The hardest thing about COVID is that we limit the experiences every child should have in school.”

About 40 children from the Caribou Youth Football League were exposed to the virus, and over the weekend, between 20 and 30 college football players faced a visiting team with a COVID-positive player, Doak said.

At Caribou High School, an outbreak of COVID-19 at the start of the year when masks were still optional forced the girls ‘varsity soccer team to miss the first game of their season and the boys’ team to miss his first two.

So far, the Caribou Community School has not identified a viral spread in the building, and Doak has speculated that the other cases and exposures are likely to appear after school as well.

“We try to do our best to keep the children safe, but when they leave us at 3pm, we have no control over what they are doing,” Doak said. “They’re going to want to live the way they’ve always lived and I don’t blame them for that, but this is how the spread is happening.”

Doak said that with so many exhibits, he believed getting away was the only way to ensure the school didn’t become a place of community transmission.

The Caribou Community School’s switch to distance learning comes amid a record increase in the number of cases in Aroostook County, which has been exacerbated by the start of the school year.

As of Wednesday, Caribou High School had six active cases and 54 students in quarantine, but planned to continue teaching in person.

Later, Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill announced it would be going remote Thursday for the first time this year. Earlier this week, the entire Houlton school district, RSU 29, began a two-week distance learning period due to outbreaks in all of its schools.

“It’s almost an endless cycle of bad news,” Doak said.


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