Two days after police were called to a house party in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where young people had gathered and were ignoring all COVID-19 precautions, the school district superintendent has announced the high school will switch to full remote learning, effective immediately.
Party attendees were sharing drinks and were not practicing social distancing or wearing face coverings Friday night inside a Rockaway Avenue home, Marblehead Superintendent John Buckey said in a letter to district families on Sunday.
"It is difficult for me to state how frustrating this is to announce," Buckey said before adding that in 26 years as an educator, he had never witnessed an effort such as the one undertaken this past summer to reopen schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"I am sorry," he said. "For those who have worked so hard to make our reopening happen, and to continue to improve it daily: to those whose lives have now been disrupted; and finally, but most importantly, to those who are at high risk of illness or live with the fear of becoming sick. We must do better."
When police responded to the house, partygoers scattered to avoid getting caught, presenting challenges for contact tracing, the superintendent said.
"We all know this is not a new thing for teenagers," he said. "However, these are not ordinary times."
It is known that the party was specific to high school age students, Buckey said, which is why only the high school will make the switch to remote learning at this time, as opposed to closing all the schools in the district to in-person learning.
Full remote learning will begin Monday, Oct. 26, and continue through at least Nov. 6. If there are no coronavirus cases identified before Nov. 6, the high school may restart hybrid learning as soon as Nov. 9, according to Buckey.
Students in the school's Voice and Bridge programs should proceed with their -in-person schedules, Buckey said.
Athletics and extracurriculars will also be postponed until Nov. 7, Buckey said, and the SAT administration scheduled for that day will continue.
District officials will reassess their plan, however, if any COVID-19 cases arise.
Parties Amid the Pandemic in Mass.
Buckey says parents and guardians of known party attendees, as well as of those who may have had contact with partygoers, should have their children get tested for COVID-19 and require them to quarantine during this time.
Families of party attendees are also expected to quarantine during this time, Buckey said, including siblings in other Marblehead schools.
Since officials are not able to identify many of the party attendees, quarantining is essentially voluntary but strongly encouraged, according to the superintendent.
"I understand young people’s desire to be together, as far away from adults as possible. In choosing to ignore the rules set down by the Governor and our community in the pandemic, however, we are not just endangering individuals… we are also potentially harming the community at large," Buckey said. "This isn’t just a school conversation. This is a community conversation. And the bottom line is that what we don’t know about this situation absolutely CAN hurt us."
Buckey said while this decision was centered around Friday's house party, "we are aware that this is not, in fact, a singular event."
"There is a troubling pattern of behavior in play, which can be seen across our community," he said.
On Sunday, Massachusetts confirmed 24 new deaths and 1,097 more coronavirus cases, marking the second straight day the state has announced more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases.
The high case numbers two days in a row from the Department of Public Health -- the likes of which haven't been seen since mid May -- continue to show a marked increase in the number of cases being reported in the state this fall.
There have now been 9,640 confirmed deaths and 147,120 cases, according to the Department of Public Health.
Gov. Charlie Baker said last week that young adults are driving the largest chunk of growth in COVID-19 positive test rates amid a statewide uptick in transmission, prompting the administration to renew its warnings against large gatherings and other unregulated social activity.