HAVERHILL — Two Haverhill High School students have come into “close contact” with a person who has tested presumptively positive for coronavirus, forcing the last-minute closure of the city’s public schools on Friday, officials said.
The exposure from a person who is not a Haverhill High student happened last weekend, according to Assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling, who alerted families to the closure via email just after 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
All schools in the district are closed Friday with a decision about Monday’s classes to be made over the weekend, he said.
Pfifferling said he and Superintendent Margaret Marotta were made aware of the case by one of the involved students’ parents immediately after the School Committee meeting about 9:05 p.m. on Thursday and got the word out to the community as soon as possible.
The person who tested presumptively positive does not live in Massachusetts, but the two students who came into contact with that person are Haverhill residents, according to Pfifferling. Their families have been in contact with the state Department of Health and proper testing protocols are being followed, he said.
Haverhill is among dozens of school districts across the commonwealth closing Friday either because of community exposure to the disease or out of an abundance of caution.
At the School Committee meeting, Marotta outlined the measures the district is taking to ensure student safety and maximize learning time.
Largely relying on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Marotta said options for online learning are being considered should the school system have to close for an extended period.
Marotta said she and other superintendents are to speak with DESE Commissioner Jeff Riley on Friday to get his recommendations on lesson planning amid the outbreak that has sickened 1,215 statewide.
To further prepare, Haverhill families can expect to receive surveys related to their at-home internet capabilities, Marotta said. To ensure equity across the district, students who do not have internet access may be able to tune in to local public television to see lessons, she said.
“It’ll be like, ‘It’s 9 o’clock on Tuesday, it’s time for first-grade science,’” she said. “We hope it doesn’t come to that, but it makes sense to plan for it.’”
Food service provider Whitsons has agreed to provide breakfast and lunch to city schoolchildren should school be out of session, according to Marotta.
Mayor James Fiorentini applauded the work of Marotta and her leadership team — including Katie Vozeolas, the director of health and nursing services for Haverhill Public Schools — when realizing all the moving parts that go into a potential school closure.
“I get emails that say, ‘Close the schools, close the schools.’ And it’s not as simple as that," Fiorentini said. "Not every child has technology. Our obligation as a district is to educate all children — not just most — and the superintendent is rightfully considering that. It’s frightening to consider a first-grade student home alone, and it’s just as frightening to think that there’s a parent who lost their job because they’re home taking care of a child. There’s a lot to consider and there’s no easy answer.”
As long as school is in session, Marotta said, attendance will remain up to families and students will not be penalized.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has relaxed the rules on attendance, according to the superintendent, so that students are only required to attend classes until the scheduled 185th day of school. For Haverhill, that is June 19, Marotta said.