MANASQUAN — Manasquan High School has shut down until Oct. 20 and shifted to remote learning only, following notification last Wednesday, that a third student had tested positive for coronavirus within a week.
Manasquan Athletic Director Pete Cahill confirmed Saturday that the school’s girls soccer team will not play any games until Oct. 21, due to a positive test on the team. The postponement will affect four scheduled games.
In-person classes were suspended as of last Thursday, Oct. 8, after four students in the district, three at the high school and one at Manasquan Elementary School, had tested positive for COVID-19.
In an Oct. 7 letter announcing the suspension, Superintendent of Schools Frank Kasyan said that only the high school would be affected, with an anticipated reopening date of Tuesday, Oct. 20.
Manasquan Elementary School will continue to operate full-time, five days a week as scheduled.
“In consultation with the Monmouth County Health Department, we feel the most appropriate and safest course of action is to close Manasquan High School only for in-person instruction and transition to fully remote learning for a period of 14 days,” Mr. Kasyan said in the letter.
In a letter sent out on Friday, Oct. 2, the superintendent announced that a student at Manasquan Elementary School had tested positive. On Monday, Oct. 5 another letter went, out notifying the community of an additional positive case at the high school.
According to Mr. Kasyan, both students were last inside their respective school buildings on Wednesday, Sept. 30.
Another letter was sent out on Tuesday, Oct. 6 alerting the community of an additional positive case at the high school. According to the superintendent, the student was last in the building on Monday, Oct. 5.
School Business Administrator Peter Crawley told The Coast Star on Wednesday that there is specific “guidance issued by the state as to when school closures should be considered.”
Mr. Kasyan explained that the guidance states that once a school has two unrelated positive cases within a 14-day period, they must consult the county Department of Health [DOH], which recommends transitioning to a fully-remote option.
He said that the district consulted the DOH on Tuesday and was afforded the opportunity to stay open due to the nature of the first two cases. Mr. Kasyan added, however, that the department strongly recommended closing when the third case was confirmed.
While the superintendent is not concerned about the ability to transition to remote learning, he said he is concerned about students contracting the virus outside of school.
“All the cases we’ve gotten so far are from students contracting the virus outside and bringing it into the school,” he said. “As of this conversation, I can say very positively that the students who have the virus have not transmitted it to anybody on campus.”
Although the transition to virtual learning is not ideal, Mr. Kasyan said, students and teachers have been getting a lot of experience with the remote option with professional development for faculty as well as the hybrid schedule and virtual practice days for students.
In his letter, Mr. Kasyan also noted that he does not believe the positive cases were linked to one another.
The superintendent said the district is “investigating the need to suspend other school extracurricular activities, however, as of this writing, outdoor athletic activities including practices and games will continue as scheduled during the remote learning period unless you are otherwise notified.”
The ACT standardized tests that were scheduled for Saturday have been canceled, as well as the PSATs for high school juniors set for Oct. 14.
According to Mr. Kasyan, the high school building will be open if students need to pick up materials or access technical support. Teachers and educational support staff will have the option of working at home, while administrators and support, clerical and custodial staff are required to report to work.
Pursuant to the district’s Restart and Recovery Plan, notices were sent out to the entire school community and posted on the district website.
Citing confidentiality restrictions, the superintendent did not go into further details about any of the cases.
He stated that contact tracing by the school district and the Monmouth County Health Department has determined that two school employees, one at each school, had been in “close contact” with the first two students who tested positive.
Mr. Kasyan said that “no other students” outside of the infected students’ households had been in close contact. The students, staff members and any household members are quarantined at home, Mr. Kasyan said in the former letters.
Contact tracing also determined that the second high school student who tested positive on Tuesday was in close contact with three students “off school property and outside of school hours,” Mr. Kasyan said. All three students were notified and are being quarantined at home.
The first two cases at the high school are not linked together, Mr. Kasyan said, adding that both positive students were in two different cohort groups — one in blue and one in gray.
The third positive student at the high school had “several close contacts” who are Manasquan students that have been notified, and have been instructed to quarantine at home.
The superintendent asked the community to cooperate if they receive a call from the Monmouth County Health Department contact tracing team.
Contact tracing is conducted as soon as the Monmouth County Health Department is notified of a positive COVID-19 case, Freeholder Director Tom Arnone told The Coast Star in an email on Tuesday.
“Contact tracing is conducted usually through a phone interview for any identified close contact of a case of COVID-19,” he said. “The intent of contact tracing is to quarantine those close contacts in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 within a community.”
Close contact is defined by the health department as being within six feet of another person for 10 minutes or more.
Mr. Kaysan said building custodial staff will continue to implement deep cleaning protocols, as outlined in the district’s Restart and Recovery Plan.
“I’m very confident that we can maintain a high level of safety and security with our environment here,” Mr. Kasyan said. “Even with these cases I think we’re fine, I would have been very happy continuing to educate the students in a physical environment.”
To date there have been five confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the district, including a staff member at the high school who had tested positive at the beginning of the school year.
For more on this story, read next week's edition of The Coast Star—on newsstands Thursday or online in our e-Edition.
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