The Edgartown School will postpone its plans to expand in-person learning for middle school students, after a positive virus case was identified at the school this week, school superintendent Matthew D’Andrea announced in a letter to the community Monday evening.

According to the letter, the school will temporarily pause efforts to institute four-day weeks for its middle school students. Fifth and sixth graders — who were set to return to the building on Tuesday, Nov. 10 — will delay their start date by a week until November 17. Seventh and eighth graders will not return consistently until December 1, Mr. D’Andrea wrote.

The decision to delay the Edgartown school’s reopening process comes on the heels of 20 new Covid-19 cases that were reported on the Island over the weekend. So far, the Edgartown School is the only district to officially postpone its re-opening plans on account of a positive virus case.

“Considering the timing of this situation, and the grade levels involved, we are postponing the start date of increased in-person instruction,” Mr. D’Andrea wrote. “This decision is made out of an abundance of caution, and allows the Board of Health time to sort out any close contacts.”

Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Mr. D’Andrea confirmed that he had made the final decision to postpone Edgartown’s re-opening, based on a recommendation from the all-Island health and safety sub-committee. “We talked a lot about it with the health and safety committee…and their advice was to delay for a week,” he said.

In the interim, middle schoolers will continue to attend in-person classes on Fridays through the end of the month, Mr. D’Andrea wrote, with plans for in-person days on Nov. 13 and Nov. 20.

The recent case at the Edgartown School marks the third in the Island elementary schools in the past week. According to letters released by Mr. D’Andrea on Friday and Sunday, two individuals at the Tisbury School tested positive for the virus late last week and over the weekend.

The Tisbury School has not announced any plans to postpone the reopening process in light of the two positive coronavirus cases connected to the school. Mr. D’Andrea said that principal John Custer will present an expanded re-opening plan for middle schoolers — approved by health and safety on Friday — at the Tisbury School committee meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Last Thursday, a positive case was also identified in the Vineyard Haven branch of Project Headway — a pre-kindergarten program operated by the public schools, making four cases in the school system overall.

Edgartown’s decision to postpone in-person learning for the middle school occurred at a pivotal juncture for Island elementary schools, which have only just begun welcoming middle school students back to the classroom regularly this month.

The decision to postpone will also allow the Island board of health time to identify any close contacts of the individual and begin tracing, Mr. D’Andrea’s letter said. But in an email to the Edgartown School community that went out later Monday night, principal Shelley Einbinder said that all close contacts of the individual had been notified.

“I am following up, as I acknowledge that this news is unsettling. As stated in the letter, the Edgartown Board of Health would contact you should your child be considered a close contact. Any close contacts have now been notified,” said Ms. Einbinder.

Mr. D’Andrea’s letter did not identify whether the positive-testing individual was a student, faculty-member, or connected to the school in another capacity, but did indicate that the choice to postpone in part due to the proximity of the individual to the middle school.

On Tuesday, Mr. D’Andrea added that the case was not contracted in the school. “We can say with with a high level of confidence that the individual that’s connected to the school contracted the virus from someone outside of the school,” he said.

Since the school year began on September 17, the schools have been engaged in a protracted re-opening process that has brought kindergarten through fourth graders back to the classroom four times a week in most districts. Fifth through eighth graders have had in-person instruction once a week at most Island schools.

In late October, as the Island’s initial re-opening period came to a close, Mr. D’Andrea announced his intention to bring students back to the building more frequently in November, emphasizing in particular the need to re-integrate middle schoolers into the classroom.

Since then, school districts across the Island have passed site-specific plans for expanded re-entry, with some districts — including the Oak Bluffs School and the up-Island Chilmark and West Tisbury schools — taking their first steps to fully re-open their middle schools this week and last.

In districts where no cases have been identified, principals said they planned to stay the course on reopening. Oak Bluffs fifth and sixth graders were on track to resume in-person learning four days a week beginning the first week in November. Up-Island, fourth and fifth graders have already returned to the West Tisbury School five days a week.

The Chilmark School — a K-5 program — has already brought all students back to school five days a week, while the West Tisbury School plans to have all students back, Monday through Friday, beginning Monday, November 16.

None of the recent community letters have specified whether the positive cases at the schools have been linked, although Mr. D’Andrea did say he did not believe that the two Tisbury cases were “school-based spread.”

There are currently no plans to roll-back re-opening at any other Island schools have been announced, and Mr. D’Andrea said he did not expect to halt re-opening at the Island-wide level either.

“I am very, very confident that our schools are very safe because of these safety measures and I do not anticipate having to having to back down from the plans at all,” said Mr. D’Andrea.

In his letter Monday, Mr. D’Andrea emphasized the importance of closely monitoring students for virus symptoms, as cases in the community continue to rise. Ms. Einbinder echoed the sentiment, urging parents and students to closely follow the governor’s and the school’s set of safety guidelines.

“Throughout our re-opening, our school has been diligent about following health and safety guidelines. These strategies include mask wearing, appropriate distancing, hand washing, and adhering to cleaning and disinfection of our classrooms and entire building,” wrote Ms. Einbinder. “Collectively, our community has important responsibilities.” 

Updated to include comment from school superintedent Matt D'Andrea.