More than 200 students have contracted a virus at an elementary school in Groton, Massachusetts, prompting its closure Monday, the superintendent said.
Florence Roche Elementary School, which closed early Friday because of “the rapid spread of the virus and the age of the students,” will not be open on Monday, Oct. 17, after a “thoughtful and careful decision,” according to a statement from Groton-Dunstable Regional School District Superintendent Laura Chesson.
Only Florence Roche will be closed. After “much careful consideration,” it was decided that all other schools will be open as scheduled, the superintendent said. Chesson added that officials reviewed the attendance data from all the district’s schools, as well as emails received by the district’s school nurses over the weekend.
Chesson acknowledged families had anxiously been awaiting her update, which came after 7 p.m. Sunday, but the superintendent noted there was significant data to review and a number of people they needed to speak with regarding the “health challenges” they’ve been experiencing at Florence Roche.
District officials spent the weekend consulting with the Board of Health, state epidemiologist Dr. Coleman, who is the pediatrician for the district, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The superintendent said their decision was based on data that showed 175 Florence Roche students were absent on Friday, and roughly 40 more students began exhibiting symptoms over the weekend. Local and state medical officials said students must remain home until they have had no symptoms for 72 hours, meaning anyone who was symptomatic Friday cannot return to school until at least Tuesday.
According to Chesson, a number of staff members are also experiencing symptoms, and district officials want to ensure there will be sufficient staff to run the building when students return. The superintendent did not say how many staff members have contracted the virus but said approximately 215 students, out of about 530 at the school, have experienced a gastrointestinal illness that appears to be viral in nature. The school first started hearing of the sick students around 10:30 p.m. Thursday.
Additionally, Chesson said six middle school students from other schools have developed symptoms, and about 20 caregivers are sick. The superintendent said this supports their belief that the illness is not environmental or related to food served in the cafeteria.
The school was deep cleaned, and the food, milk and water supply all checked, but nothing problematic was found, leading officials to believe this is some kind of virus. Students were advised to bring lunch on Friday as a precaution, but ultimately the Board of Health recommended they close the building. Chesson said Friday they are assuming it is norovirus, based on the symptoms and spread.
The Groton Fire Department also checked for carbon dioxide leaks at Florence Roche but did not find anything.
During the closure Monday, there will be additional cleaning in all bathrooms, the cafeteria and other high touch areas.
According to Chesson, no one who has gotten sick has been tested, and therefore medical officials are unable to definitively identify the cause of the illness. Families are encouraged to consult with their student’s physician about whether testing is appropriate.
District officials consulted with the Department of Secondary Education and determined that students and staff at Florence Roche will need to make up this day of school.
Given that, Chesson said, it it “HIGHLY unlikely” that schools will be cancelled for any additional days due to this illness.
Absences for any students with these symptoms will be excused. Families are asked to send an email to the school nurse or principal regarding any student’s illness and subsequent absence.