Peru High School students will be learning from home for two weeks after school administrators cancelled in-person classes because of health concerns stemming from a COVID-19 outbreak in the county.
“We will be on a remote learning platform for 14 days starting Thursday,” Peru Community Schools Superintendent Sam Watkins told the Tribune on Wednesday afternoon.
The move, he said, came as direction from Miami County Health Officer Dr. Christi Redmon after several students tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and even more were asked to stay home because of quarantine guidelines based on close contact with those positive cases.
Roughly an hour before Watkins’ 2:30 p.m. decision on Wednesday, he said the school was nearing 20 percent of students out on quarantine and he was aware of about three students who had tested positive. If that number went over five, or if students on quarantine went over 20 percent, he said, state guidelines and directions from the county health department would require the move to virtual learning.
The decision comes following a more than two-week climb of COVID-19 cases in the county.
Wednesday’s update put the county’s total at 587 cases since the start of the pandemic in March.
That number was up from 540 on Friday and 451 on Oct. 5.
Redmon on Wednesday said county residents can expect those numbers to continue to climb as the virus spreads throughout the county.
Asked if the jump in numbers, which has also seen 15 residents at Miller’s Merry Manor test positive, was just simple community spread or was the result of a group gathering and not following mask and social distancing guidelines, Redmon said it was “all of the above.”
She said officials in the county are aware of the cluster of cases at the high school as well as at least two local businesses which she declined to name.
Wednesday’s decision from Watkins came as the county moved from yellow to orange, the third level on the state’s four-tier color-coded “county metrics map” which displays the level of community spread in a county.
The move also brings the abrupt end of the football season for the 7-2 Tigers who were scheduled to play in their sectional Friday night.
“It’s awful,” Watkins said Thursday. “When we are called off like this, we can’t have sports activities either.”
The cancellation is especially crushing for seniors who have been part of a rebuilding effort that has “put the swagger back in Peru football,” Watkins said.
“I apologize profusely to our seniors, our parents and our coaching staff,” he said.
As for other schools in the corporation, Watkins said he and other administrators are monitoring the situations there closely.
“It has cut a wide path through us,” he said.
He said he knows there are concerns in the community about cases spreading in the lower grades. The number of students at the junior high school out on precautionary quarantine is nearing a “critical stage,” he said. Much like at the high school, if those numbers reach a “tipping point” students will have to be sent home from there, too.
“We will err on the side of caution,” he said.
In his letter to parents, announcing the high school closure, Watkins said families can expect to be contacted if students are believed to have been exposed.
“Contact tracing is in process and in the event that your student was exposed to a positive case (close contact), you will be directly contacted by building administration,” he wrote. “Again, we have been directed by the Miami County Health Department and the decision has been made to move all high school students to remote learning for two weeks starting October 22, 2020 – November 4, 2020.”
Other athletics and fine arts are put “on hold” for that period, according to the letter.
School meals will be passed out at the high school through the closure breakfast and lunch will be provided from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and dinner from 4 to 6 p.m.
“We want to reassure our community that we are following all safety precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus. Our high school exposed areas will be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, and professionally sanitized. Our jr. high and elementary schools will continue to operate as they have been. As a reminder, masks are required to enter our buildings, and no students or staff should enter any Peru Community School building if they are symptomatic,” Watkins wrote. “By working together, we will get through this.”