WILMINGTON — Coastal Christian High School will make a switch to remote learning through Friday, Oct. 16, following several COVID-19 diagnoses from within the student body.
In emails sent to school parents, CCHS administrators said that until last Sunday, it had been a “COVID free campus.”
“As you know, just two days ago on Sunday evening, I reported the first positive cases of three of our students,” Brenda McCombie, head of school, wrote in an email to parents. “Unfortunately, as more cases have been reported and contact tracing has taken place, we now have almost a third of our student body under a 14-day quarantine.”
In an email to Port City Daily, McCombie said CCHS teachers have experience in teaching remotely, and the school intends to reopen and welcome student back to campus on Monday, Oct. 19.
“We have been celebrating a quarter of the school year with zero COVID cases among our students,” she added. “This has been an answer to prayer and a blessing for Coastal.”
The decision was announced on Tuesday, Oct. 6, after a flurry of newly identified cases caused administrators to alter instruction plans throughout the day. School administrators wrote in emails that the cases were linked to off-campus events. The emails shared the names of the diagnosed students, with permission given to administrators from CCHS parents.
“We have identified a group that was together Friday night for dinner, a Saturday volleyball group, and possibly an off-campus lunch that may be the sources of all but one of these cases,” one email said. “The most positive news I can provide is that, due to the symptoms and cases developing over the weekend, we believe there have not been COVID positive cases on the CCHS campus.”
Administrators determined the off-campus lunch and Friday night-dinners to be the source of positive cases. In an email, McCombie said the students in question were at school on Friday but not symptomatic until Sunday.
“The students at this dinner and those exposed to them have not been on our campus since this dinner,” she said in an email to Port City Daily. “However, we have had two cases, one Monday and one yesterday, appear where students have been on campus. Therefore, we thought it best to do a school-wide switch to our ongoing remote teaching for 14 days to prevent further exposure.”
Elizabeth DeBiasi, the parent of a student at CCHS, said she has been pleased with the school’s communication and overall strategy of handling positive test results from within the student body. (She asked that it be clarified she did not forward any school communication to press).
“I felt very informed,” DeBiasi said. “And to me it makes a ton of sense to just go completely remote because they are very good at completely remote.”
DeBiasi said she thinks the decision to pause in-person learning for two weeks will put the school in a position where it can finish out the rest of the academic year as planned.
“As they say, the virus doesn’t move, people do,” she said. “So our kids aren’t moving. We can shut down for these two weeks, go remote, and then avoid another shutdown in nine weeks.”
Initially, administrators advised students who might have faced exposure to seek a COVID-19 test “no sooner than Thursday of this week,” according to an email sent on Monday, Oct. 5. “If a negative COVID test result is received Thursday or after, an exposed student may return to school on Monday, October 12th.”
McCombie later sent an email to parents, stating she “sought further counsel from our local health department” and “a physician specializing in infectious disease medicine.” After those conversations, she informed parents a new policy would disallow any student from returning to campus after exposure for at least 14 days, regardless of the results of their COVID-19 tests.
Carla Turner, New Hanover County assistant health director, said in an email: “New Hanover County Public Health has been in contact with CCHS through contact tracing for those who reside in New Hanover County, and we were made aware of cases among students who reside in other counties.”
“Our team also provided the Strong Schools Toolkit prior to school reopening. Our Call Center remains available at 910-798-6800 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for residents, businesses and organizations for information and guidance regarding COVID-19,” she said.
The emails from CHHS’s McCombie also explained how CCHS administrators were performing internal contact-tracing operations, and it assured parents that students who became symptomatic were not in school on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
This story is developing as more information becomes available.