By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
The number of COVID-19 cases in the Downbeach schools is on the rise among students, superintendents of the Ventnor and Margate school districts confirmed on Thursday, Dec. 3.
Atlantic and Cape May counties were recently designated Code Orange, indicating escalating community spread, and residents are considered at high-risk of contracting COVID-19.
“Currently, we have a couple of positive cases among students in each school,” Margate Superintendent Thomas Baruffi said in an email.
However, spread of COVID-19 among teachers and students is not prevalent, he said.
“We do have some staff members who have had to quarantine as close contacts, but the numbers have been fairly modest,” he said.
Ventnor Superintendent Carmela Somershoe relayed a similar situation at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex, which houses two schools, elementary and middle levels.
“There has been no spread among teachers and students,” Somershoe said.
However, there are a few positive cases in one of the schools linked to exposure outside the school building, she said.
“Close contacts to these cases have been notified and are quarantining,” she said.
Other staff members and students have been required to quarantine as required by the Atlantic County Health Department.
School nurses have been working with the county to assist with contact tracing.
“The details of each case are reviewed carefully, and decisions are based on Department of Health guidance,” Somershoe said.
Baruffi said each case is reviewed individually before deciding who will be required to quarantine.
“When someone in the district tests positive, we share that information with the county health department and work with them to determine close contacts,” Baruffi said. “Sometimes, we have to make ‘on the spot’ decisions relative to quarantining certain groups of students and we do so based on cohorts and possible exposure.”
Margate is one of the only school districts in the area to offer full-time in-classroom learning. Ventnor is using a hybrid model where students attend classes three days a week and are remote learning two days a week.
Neither district is planning to move to all-remote learning at this time, they said.
“We do realize that with the recent increase in cases, that could easily change, and we will not have a choice,” Baruffi said.
He said situations will continue to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
“The health and safety of our students and staff continues to be our number one priority,” Somershoe said.
Many Downbeach high school aged students attend Ocean City High School, which has seen an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
According to a letter sent to parents, Principal Matthew Jamieson altered schedules to reduce large group gatherings, yet maintain in-person learning. The decision was made to eliminate lunch and shorten classes to 30 minutes with an earlier dismissal time.
As of Dec. 2, the Ocean City school district reported 386 “close contact” cases with 54 positive cases, 32 of them at the high school.
“I understand that there may be some apprehension or uncertainty during this time of challenge. However, we will continue to assess and evaluate our program to provide a quality education to the students of OCHS. Together we understand that these circumstances are not long term and together we will be successful,” he said.
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