ROCKPORT — A cluster of new COVID-19 cases in Gloucester has lead Rockport school officials to delay discussion on reopening the schools for one week.

The School Committee meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 14, was meant to serve as a "checkpoint meeting" to discuss a possible transition into a hybrid reopening from the all-remote learning occurring now. However, this week, an unexpected spike in COVID-19 cases was reported in Gloucester. City officials said there were 44 active cases Thursday at noon after having jumped from 24 to 32 the previous day. In response, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the city opened a free COVID-19 testing clinic at Stage Fort Park off Hough Avenue. Testing will be available on Friday, Oct. 16, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well next week on days to be determined.

Children who live in Gloucester make up about a fourth of the Rockport Public Schools' student body; more than 90% of school choice students are from the city. 

"The decision was made to table my recommendation (for reopening) to next Thursday's School Committee meeting," said Rockport Superintendent Rob Liebow. "We were going to make a decision (at the meeting) then less than two hours before, the Gloucester cases hit the street. We decided to wait and let the case situation in Gloucester play out and determine what it would mean for our metrics."

Liebow declined to go into the specifics of the recommendation he prepared for this week's School Committee meeting as it does not properly represent the number of COVID-19 cases now active around Cape Ann. He also didn't want to speak on whether any cases were reported among Rockport's student body and staff.

"We were going to talk about a proposed staggered entry into a hybrid reopening," he said, "but because of last night (the recommendation) is going to look different."

Typically, Rockport School Committee meetings are held on Wednesdays, the same day the state Department of Health releases its latest town-by-town count of active COVID-19 cases. The committee decided to move the meeting to Thursday, Oct. 22, to base their decisions on the most up-to-date information on the virus.

"Testing (at Stage Fort Park) could show up more cases that normally would be unidentified or asymptomatic," Liebow saidss. "We did not feel confident on acting on any recommendation until those numbers come in."

School Committee Chairman Michael Kelley could not be reached for comment on this story.

Rockport Public Schools began the 2020-21 school year remotely with plans to transition to a hybrid reopening as soon as possible. Each month, the School Committee will meet to consider if reopening the schools is a viable option. A hybrid reopening would see the Rockport schools half-filled four days a week. Students will be split into two groups and have lessons either in their classrooms or online depending on the day. 

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com

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