November 2, 2020

Dear Cumberland School Department Families,

As you know, we had to make a decision to close Cumberland High School on Friday, October 30th because of staffing issues.  Given the number of certified and noncertified staff members who were not able to report to work, we would not have been able to cover all of the classes  As a result, we had to cancel in-person learning and designate that day a distance learning day.  Unfortunately, we may have more of these days in the future.

We have also had to close the High School, McCourt Middle School, and North Cumberland Middle School because of a positive case(s).  You may be wondering why a single positive case or cases of COVID-19 would result in buildings being closed.  My colleague, Mark Garceau, the Superintendent of Schools in Westerly, answered this question and others very well.  He allowed me to share his response with you.  I have modified it to reflect the occurrences that we have had here in Cumberland.

Many are wondering why a positive case of COVID-19 would result in a building closing.  This is a totally understandable question and it provides an opportunity to describe what happens when a positive case is identified and what goes into decisions about closing classes, rooms or buildings. Hopefully, the following helps.

Two positive cases were identified at the high school on the same day last week.  As we have stated on several occasions, once an individual(s) associated with our schools tests positive, all guidance will come from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH).  This prompted the beginning of coordination with the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH).

The RIDOH gathers all pertinent information needed to identify who would be considered a close contact of the individual(s) who tested positive for COVID-19 during the period(s) of time during which an individual would be considered contagious.

Obviously, these close contacts are not considered COVID-positive, but they are directed to quarantine for fourteen days, to monitor for symptoms, get tested, etc.

Is it possible that some close contacts will become symptomatic?  Yes, it is.

Is it possible that some close contacts will be found to be asymptomatic positive cases?  Yes, it is.

Is it likely that everyone considered a close contact will become symptomatic?  No, it is not at all, but the point of going to quarantine is to try to quell any possible spread.

If the RI DOH determines that there were no close contacts within any building during an infectious period.  In these cases, no further action was required.

In the Cumberland High School instance, roughly 44 students and 10 adults were identified via the RIDOH contact tracing protocol as being close contacts of an individual who tested positive.

Then, why did the whole school have to go to distance learning?  Why not just isolate those individuals?  The answer is because staff members fill multiple roles in our buildings every day, and because we have a shortage of available substitutes, there just are not enough adult bodies available to open and operate the building.  Students attend multiple classes with different groups of students.

The point is, because a classroom or school has to switch to distance learning, this does not in any way mean that there is widespread infection or a breakout.  In this instance, it simply means that we lacked the capacity to open in a face to face model and that this stems from a single positive case having been in the building during a period of time during which the RIDOH deems an individual as contagious.

Again, it is understandable that there would be questions and that there is a degree of anxiety in the community regarding the virus. There has been since March.  But, it is important that we remain transparent and factual and that we try to maintain some perspective.

There have been and there will continue to be positive cases in our workplaces, our schools, our families, etc.  The Cumberland School Department is committed to continuing to educate our students in safe environments, in collaboration with and under the guidance of medical experts and health officials.

There may never be (not for a time anyway) a “perfect” time to attempt to reopen our schools, but we recognize and agree that students benefit more from face to face instruction than any other model and we will continue to strive to make that available to all and to work towards getting back to normal.

Thank you,
Robert A. Mitchell
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