The entrance to Fort Fairfield High School. Credit: Courtesy of MSAD 20

Schools in Fort Fairfield and Limestone delayed starting their academic year until next week due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, while the Mars Hill school reported that two people have tested positive at the junior/senior high level.

Mars Hill has been in session since Aug. 11. Limestone and Fort Fairfield were supposed to start school on Wednesday, but have postponed their openings until Monday.

The three school districts had decided masks would be optional for students and staff, although Fort Fairfield and Limestone made them mandatory again prior to changing school start dates Tuesday.

They are the latest in a string of schools to change their policies because of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, and add to the list of Aroostook schools affected by the virus. Aroostook is one of the counties that currently has high transmission rates.

The schools’ announcements came shortly after the high school in Van Buren’s SAD 24 was forced to go remote for one day after a staff member who came in contact with a large number of the student body tested positive for COVID-19.  

The Fort Fairfield school district — RSU 20 — is delaying the start of its school year due to high numbers of COVID-19 cases in the area, including some that were close contacts of school students and staff.

“Affected individuals are currently in isolation at home and will only return to school once clearance has been given by the Maine CDC,” said SAD 20 superintendent Tim Doak in a letter to parents and staff members. “As planned, school personnel immediately activated our contact tracing protocol and will begin reaching out to individuals in our school community who may have been considered close contacts.”

An update on Fort Fairfield’s situation is expected by the end of the week.

Limestone Community School also is delaying its opening to Monday due to high spread in the area, Principal Ben Lothrop said Tuesday.

“Like everyone else, I had hoped for a ‘normal’ start to our school year, but unfortunately this situation has arisen,” Lothrop wrote on social media. “Above all, the health and safety of our students and staff need to guide our decision making.”

Fort Fairfield and Limestone aren’t the only towns in central Aroostook County facing difficulties due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases. In Mars Hill, SAD 42 superintendent Elaine Boulier told parents in a letter that two people at the junior/senior high school level had tested positive for the virus.

Students that have been identified as close contacts will be required to quarantine for 10 days, and masks will be required for all students in grades 7-12.

“Students who are quarantining will need to check Google Classroom daily beginning tomorrow afternoon for assignments,” Boulier, who is also superintendent for the Van Buren schools, wrote. “In addition, these students may contact their teachers during learning lab for further explanation or assistance.”