Conestoga Valley High School

Exterior of Conestoga Valley High School. Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Conestoga Valley High School will be closed to students Saturday through Monday, Sept. 21, due to a spread of COVID-19 among individuals at the school.

Conestoga Valley School District Superintendent Dave Zuilkoski broke the news to families in a letter Friday posted on the district's website. The announcement comes a day after two additional cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at the high school.

In total, the district has four cases — three at the high school and one at Brownstown Elementary School. There is an additional probable case at the high school. The district hasn't specified whether the cases belong to students or staff.

"We were very fortunate that the spread was not worse. We are fortunate because we have dedicated individuals in the High School conducting effective contact tracing," Zuilkoski stated in his letter regarding the high school closure. "Due to the ability of the High School staff to gather pertinent information in real time, the familiarity with the individuals involved, and the occurrence of the Labor Day holiday, we were able to effectively identify and quarantine individuals who ran the risk of contracting the virus."

The cases originated from a gathering outside the high school, Zuilkoski said.

"Again, this closure is not a result of a schedule, of someone not wearing a face covering, or of someone not maintaining social distance; this closure is the result of individual actions in the community brought into the school," he said. "Please note: During the closure, academic delivery will change to an online model; the building will go through a thorough cleaning; and all extra-curricular activities will be suspended and rescheduled as appropriate."

All students who were asked to quarantine are still expected to do so. Teachers are still expected to report to the high school to conduct their classes virtually.

"Quite a number of kids" are quarantined because they were within close contact with individuals who were sick or may be sick, according to Conestoga Valley Education Association Vice President Kerry Mulvihill.

The number of students in quarantine could have been reduced if the district followed a hybrid instructional model, which would allow for social distancing in classrooms as only half of the students would be allowed to learn in-person at a time.

Although the teachers' union pushed heavily for such a model, the school board stuck with full-time, in-person instruction.

"We could've protected them," Mulvihill, who teaches science at the middle school, said of the students.

High school students who spoke with LNP | LancasterOnline after school Friday said they were frustrated that they'll have to learn remotely next week.

"I don’t think it’s really cool," Erik Seranno, 17, a junior, said. "I just think we should keep going. It’s bound to happen, you know what I mean?"

Seranno's not overly concerned about the virus. Students going to school should already know the risk, he said.

"If you don’t want to get COVID, stay at your house," he said. "It’s that simple."

Chris Needham, 16, a junior, said he learns best in-person, as do many others, so the school shouldn't close "right away" after a few cases. 

"I would like to personally stay at school," he said. "I hope that this school shutdown doesn’t lead to an extended shutdown."

The move to postpone in-person instruction aligns with guidance from the state Health and Education departments that says schools in counties with "moderate" community transmission should close five to seven days if they have two or more COVID-19 cases.

To end his letter, Zuilkoski advised the Conestoga Valley community to make smart choices outside of school.

"We need your help as parents, students, community members, friends and colleagues, to make sure we are doing everything in our power outside-of-school to stay safe, so we can enjoy all that in-person school provides," he said. "Let’s all do our part and help prevent future closings."

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