Princeton Public Schools to dismiss early Thursday and Friday, but many students and some teachers called out sick because of coronavirus concerns (updated)

The Princeton Public Schools will dismiss early on Thursday and Friday so the district can prepare for remote learning, school officials announced Wednesday night. Many parents decided not to send their children to school today, and some teachers and staff members called out because of coronavirus concerns.

Some students and teachers have reported that in some cases, half the class is out.

In a letter to parents and staff Thursday, Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said Princeton High School will dismiss at 12:30 p.m. this Thursday and Friday. Elementary and middle schools will dismiss at 1:00 p.m. 

“Our response to the coronavirus continues to evolve. While there are currently no known or presumptive cases in our school community, we recognize that some residents of Princeton have been exposed to the virus and may be experiencing symptoms. Consequently, after careful consultation with our local health officials, we are accelerating our preparation to provide remote learning for our students,” Cochrane wrote.

“We will use this time to continue our preparation for remote instruction as well as to organize meals for our nearly 500 students who participate in the federal lunch program,” Cochrane wrote.

Elementary school conferences scheduled for Thursday afternoon have been postponed. All large events in the school district have also been postponed.

“At this time, we are carefully monitoring the situation to determine our plans for school next week. We are in ongoing communication with municipal health officials who anticipate they will soon receive results for local residents who have recently been tested for COVID-19,” Cochrane wrote. “The decision to implement remote learning for our students is one that considers multiple factors and will be made after careful consultation with our local board of health, the local department of health and the New Jersey Department of Health – all of whom are following the best and latest guidance from the CDC.  I will be in touch as soon as I learn more.”

Public schools in South Brunswick are closed today and Friday because of the coronavirus outbreak. Two residents of South Brunswick were at a Princeton party attended by two people who had attended the Biogen conference in Boston and later tested positive for COVID-19.

Stuart Country Day School and Princeton Charter School also canceled classes this week. One staff member at the charter school attended the Feb. 29 party, according to a letter parents sent to the head of the charter school earlier this week. The Montgomery Public Schools will also shift to distance learning after Thursday.

Earlier this week, a parent at Community Park Elementary expressed concerns about children attending school whose parents were at the Princeton party. Other parents and teachers have expressed similar concerns at other schools about children of party-goers attending school. Local health officials have only been having first-degree contacts who were at the party self-isolate, but not second-degree contacts who were not at the party.

One parent at Community Park sent a letter to school and municipal officials asking what steps were being taken to protect children, immunocompromised students, teachers, and staff. The parent also asked if the district is providing extra manpower for the janitorial staff. “They work diligently during normal conditions; asking for extra cleaning without providing staffing support may not be consistently possible,” reads the parent’s email. “They did not request this at all and continue to work hard to protect our staff and children, however, logic would dictate that only so much can possibly be done to safeguard/disinfect during the day.”

In response to the email, yesterday Cochrane sent a letter to Community Park staff members and parents.

“We are aware that information has been circulating indicating that a CP parent has self-quarantined in response to the coronavirus.  We are writing to provide factual information about the situation,” reads the letter. “A parent was in fact asked to self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution because of possible proximity to a co-worker who might have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. The CP parent is without symptoms.”

Cochrane said that according to the CDC and the local health officer, the child of the parent does not need to be quarantined. “Nevertheless, the parent is keeping the child at home until the colleague’s test results come back. The CP parent is concerned about community transmission and is committed to pursuing the most cautious course of action going forward,” reads the letter. “We are, of course, continuing to implement stringent cleaning measures and other precautions to keep our students and staff as safe as possible.”