Donegal High School suspended in-person classes for most of this week after learning nearly 60 students had to quarantine after coming into contact with a student who was presumably positive for COVID-19 at a homecoming party last weekend, LNP | LancasterOnline has learned.
Dozens of students, including the Donegal school board president’s son, attended the party, which parents hosted in lieu of an official, district-affiliated dance, according to information from school officials, parents and social media posts.
One of the students at the party was considered probable for COVID-19, forcing the high school to shift to online-only instruction Wednesday through Friday and postpone all extracurricular activities, including this week's football game against Ephrata. In-person learning is expected to resume Monday.
Images posted on social media show maskless students posing outside with their arms around each other. Photos taken inside what looks like a barn show a DJ in the background with colorful lights shining on a dance floor.
While the student in question has since tested negative for the virus, district Superintendent Michael Lausch confirmed, the party prompted the district to quickly cancel in-person classes for three days. If other students or staff repeat this behavior, Lausch said online-only instruction could be extended.
“If our families want us to be able to offer in-person learning, then we have to be taking the appropriate safety precautions both inside of school and outside of school,” Lausch said Thursday.
Lausch confirmed there was at least one homecoming party over the weekend. He declined to share further details but said there have been no additional cases stemming from the party. He also reiterated that the event was not sanctioned by the district.
Meanwhile, the parent who hosted the party said the situation was "blown out of proportion."
Matt Ober, the father of one of the students pictured on social media, confirmed he hosted the homecoming party when contacted Friday through his plumbing business in Mount Joy.
He described the party as “something that was the right thing to do that got blown out of proportion like everything does nowadays.” He reiterated that the student who thought to have COVID-19 received a negative test result in the days following the party. He declined to comment further and hung up.
Efforts to speak with other parents were unsuccessful, because either they did not respond or they declined to comment.
The son of school board President Oliver Overlander was also pictured in the social media posts. Overlander on Thursday confirmed his son was at a gathering Saturday night. Afterward, his son came home with a few friends for a sleepover.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation,” Overlander said when asked if he had second thoughts about allowing his son to attend the party, adding, “We’re trying as a district as much as possible to keep our students and faculty safe.”
Overlander said he had no hand in planning the party, and his son is not sick.
Donegal School District has had two schools shift temporarily to online-only classes this fall - the high school and intermediate school.
Lancaster County schools have reported more than 90 total COVID-19 cases this fall. In addition to Donegal's two schools, six others — Conestoga Valley High School, East High Street Elementary School, Pequea Valley High School, Pequea Valley Intermediate School, Penn Manor High School and the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center — have implemented temporary shifts to online-only learning to mitigate potential outbreaks.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is not tracking COVID-19 in schools, but it is recording data related to individuals 5- to 18-years old. Since the week of Aug. 28, cases in that age group have increased 43%, from 7,788 to 11,171, statewide.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania is seeing resurgence of the virus, recording at least 1,000 new cases a day since Oct. 6.