William Allen Middle School closes as district traces COVID cases

Three students test positive for virus, with two more possible.

William Allen Middle School is on a fully remote schedule until Jan. 25, news that came after district officials learned three of the school’s students tested positive for COVID-19, with two additional possible cases pending results.

Superintendent Scott McCartney explained what prompted the school closure at the Jan. 19 virtual Moorestown Board of Education meeting. The Burlington County Department of Health’s metric for districts to consider switching to fully remote instruction is when more than two students test positive for COVID.

The district learned on Jan. 18 it had exceeded the two student cap and turned to the health department for guidance. When officials learned of two more possible cases, the district was advised by the department on Jan. 19 to operate Allen on a remote schedule, giving district nurses and staff sufficient time to complete contact tracing.

The bulk of that day was spent engaging in the tracing process, which  determined that, based on when the first student tested positive, Allen  could safely reopen on Monday, Jan. 25. Until then, the school’s students are on a fully remote schedule. 

McCartney explained that after returning from winter break, the district made a commitment to look at shutdowns on a school-by-school basis rather than district wide.

“That is a much more challenging process, but (it) is also much more prescriptive and/or systematic in terms of how we look to close, versus a general open or close,” he explained.

There are four scenarios that could send individual students or staff into quarantine. The first is if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID, in which case the individual is asked to quarantine for 14 days. As of Tuesday’s board meeting, the district had 13 confirmed, positive cases,  with 10 students and three staff members receiving a positive diagnosis.

The second reason someone may be asked to quarantine is if he or she has recently traveled outside the state. 

“That was probably our largest consideration and or challenge coming back to school in January, because many people elected to travel,” McCartney noted. “At our highest, we had about 117 students required to quarantine because of traveling and leaving the state of New Jersey.” 

That number has since dropped to 70 students. McCartney said he anticipates it will continue to drop as the calendar moves farther away from the holidays.

The third quarantine scenario is triggered if a student or staff member is  exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID. As of Tuesday, approximately 59 students across the district were in quarantine due to exposure.

The final quarantine scenario occurs if students or staff are symptomatic. Anyone in the district who experiences two or more of the symptoms of COVID, as defined by the New Jersey Department of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is asked to quarantine and potentially get tested to determine if the symptoms are the result of COVID or something else. 

Burlington County currently sits in the high-risk category for COVID, but McCarntey said he received good news from the county Department of Health that Moorestown’s cases have remained flat. 

The district is currently forming a new survey to solicit parental feedback on the current hybrid and remote models of learning. McCartney said the district is trying to find out how the community’s opinion has changed from the time it sent the first surveys in August. 

The next meeting of the board is Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m.