The halls of Windham High School were empty Wednesday morning, when they were supposed to be full of masked students resuming in-person classes.
In a last-minute move, the New Hampshire high school pivoted to a remote-only start for the rest of the week after a number of students tested positive for the coronavirus.
Windham's superintendent, Richard Langlois of SAU 95, confirmed late Wednesday afternoon that 16 students had tested positive for COVID-19. He said the majority of them are athletes.
Langlois also suspended all sports practices and tryouts, since several of the students who tested positive were athletes, causing local residents to wonder whether districts are moving too quickly to get back to fall sports.
“I think they rushed,” said Windham resident Chrissy Harte. “They expected too much because our numbers are so low.”
“Putting kids together in a classroom setting, or on playing fields, or courts, it’s inevitable to happen,” said Jeff Freedman, who lives in nearby Hampstead.
At first on Tuesday, Langlois announced in a letter to the school community that athletic activities were being suspended because some students had tested positive for the virus. But he sent a follow-up letter saying that, after more students tested positive and state health officials weighed in, the school was moving to remote learning through the end of the week.
Windham High School's CTE program was suspended indefinitely as well. Windham's elementary and middle schools continued with their set schedules for the week.
“All students who have tested positive for COVID, their siblings, those who were in close contact with an individual who has tested positive, and their siblings, have been contacted and will adhere to their recommended quarantine time," Langlois wrote.
The largest New Hampshire teachers union, NEA-New Hampshire, has been pushing for a remote start to the year statewide for exactly this reason, said its president, Megan Tuttle.
“The night before school starts, hours to go, and you’re switching. It’s tough on everybody,” she said.
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Classes will stay remote at least through Friday and residents are hoping the unexpected delay comes with an important message.
“I think the kids have to learn to be little more careful,” said Jan Sweetser, who lives in Windham.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, which had advised the district to end in-person classes for the week at Windham High School, will be contact tracing and meeting with school officials daily, Langlois said.
"We will update the community and make further decisions by the end of the week based on the continued consultation with DHHS," Langlois said in a statement. "We would like to thank you in advance for your patience as we monitor this ongoing situation. If you are concerned or believe your child may have been exposed, we encourage you to reach out directly to your child's medical provider."
The first day of school was scheduled for Wednesday, according to the district's website, which explains that hybrid and fully remote learning options are being offered to start the year.
Langlois said anyone with questions is asked to contact the district's COVID resource line by calling 603-845-1566 or emailing email@example.com.