At the most recent meeting of the Moorestown Board of Education, Superintendent Scott McCartney said it was highly unlikely the entire district would shut down, with the more likely scenario being if a school saw more than two cases, just that building would close.
But on Friday, Nov. 20, he sent a letter home to families stating the entire district would, in fact, shut down from Nov. 23 through Friday, Dec. 4.
So what happened?
According to McCartney, the decision to move to a fully remote model came on the heels of new guidance from the Burlington County Department of Health. He said district officials felt the nursing staff, who are facilitating contact tracing in the schools, needed additional time to implement the new guidelines.
On Thursday, Nov. 19, the Health Department updated its guidance and expanded contact tracing to not only those who tested positive but those who are symptomatic of COVID-19. Previously, if a person was symptomatic, he or she would be asked to stay home and self-quarantine until a positive diagnosis was confirmed. Now, Burlington County schools must provide the contact tracing for anyone exhibiting symptoms.
Prior to the shutdown, the district stood at around 11 COVID-positive students and about three COVID-positive staff members. On Friday, Nov. 20, district officials learned that Moorestown High School had gone beyond the two-person limit of positive cases that would have triggered a building shutdown. McCartney said that also played a role in his decision to go remote.
The superintendent also explained that between the new guidance, positive cases on the rise and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, he felt now was the right time to go remote for a short time and reassess where things stand after Thanksgiving, including how the district will manage contact tracing moving forward.
“It’s really about maintaining health and wellness for our community,” McCartney said.
For the most part, the district hasn’t been met with a huge response to the learning change, he added. Thus far, the bulk of the response has come from the athletic communities. McCartney said students in both the field hockey and boys soccer programs had successful runs and were fortunate to make it through nearly the whole season. While the district was able to complete its contact tracing and come to terms with the opposing school to allow a final soccer match, the same couldn’t be said for field hockey.
Students from the field hockey team and their parents gathered outside the district’s administration to express their displeasure and to request their game be reinstated. Moorestown High School senior Margaret Lawler was one of the players in attendance.
“We wanted to show up in person because we wanted to make our presence known, and we wanted to show how hurt we were from the decision by Dr. McCartney, and we wanted to fight for our season,” Lawler said.
She added for the team to make it to the championships, then have their season shut down, was “heartbreaking.”
“It’s just awful that it had to end this way.”
McCartney said he understands why the decision was met with a lot of emotion and frustration by some. By the same token, he added, many parents have been understanding and knew that a shutdown was always a possibility.
The district didn’t have any positive cases until one week before the remote announcement, according to McCartney, and it has gone further into the school year without any cases than many (himself included) anticipated. He attributed that to the district and its families being consistent with safety practices and rules.
The superintendent is hopeful schools can reopen their doors come Dec. 7. Families are asked to continue filling out the district’s daily health assessment form, so that following Thanksgiving, it can see where the school community’s health stands as a determination is made about reopening schools safely.
“We know that being in school is good for our kids, and we know the community, as a whole, prefers that model,” McCartney said.