Limestone school reopens after illness outbreak sent home teachers

1 year ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Limestone Community School reopened its doors Thursday morning after enough teachers were deemed well enough to return.

The school had been closed since Monday after nine of the 14 total full-time teachers and many other staff members caught a nasty flu-like bug. Initially the school tried to fill vacancies with substitutes but after too many teachers left, officials opted to not risk students’ safety or educational experience.

“We do have a few teachers and staff still out, but we will be able to have all of our classrooms covered,” said Principal Ben Lothrop, in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

But while the teachers may be nearly back to full strength, student attendance is not. Attendance figures on Thursday morning showed that 46 out of 140 students were out sick, Lothrop said.

Lothrop was one of many staff and school committee members who were still ill Wednesday and could not attend the meeting that evening.

At that meeting, Superintendent William Dobbins said that it appears the outbreak originated in the community, not from within the school.

“We’re not sure exactly what our kid count will be [on Thursday] but hopefully with three days rest, we can get up and running again,” Dobbins said.

Special Education Coordinator Libby Durepo indicated that staff and administrators have not yet decided how they will make up the three missed school days.

Other local schools have recently dealt with student absences due to illness as well.

At Woodland Consolidated School, Superintendent Karla Michaud said that 75 out of the school’s 170 students were out sick last week. Fortunately, only a few teachers fell ill, so substitutes filled in.

“We have seen the numbers [of absent students] go down remarkably this week,” Michaud said. “We are deep cleaning desks and those who need to are masking up.”

The Maine School of Science and Mathematics, which shares a building with Limestone Community School, has only seen a few students become sick, said Public Relations Coordinator Ryan McDonald.

“Today is our last day of final exams. The students go home today for three weeks of winter vacation,” McDonald said.

In RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm), at least 123 out of Caribou High School’s 470 students and 11 out of 55 staff members were out sick Thursday with respiratory flu. Caribou Community School had 177 out of 755 pre-K to grade 8 students and 11 out of 106 staff members out, noted Superintendent Tim Doak.

At SAD 20 in Fort Fairfield, for which Doak is also superintendent, 59 out of 217 elementary students were sick with respiratory flu Thursday compared with 54 Wednesday. Only one staff member out of 43 was absent Thursday due to that same illness.

On Friday, a rise in cases at the high school prompted officials to close the doors. The elementary school remains in session.

Forty-one out of 269 high school students and three out of the 60 staff members were home sick as of Thursday, Doak said.

So far all Caribou schools have remained open.

“We’re taking things day by day,” Doak said. “We’ve been lucky to not have many teachers out, but if bus drivers and cafeteria workers get sick, we’ll have to close [other schools].”

Staff writer Joseph Cyr contributed to this report.