Caribou High School students get off the bus in this 2019 file photo. Credit: BDN file

CARIBOU, Maine — Caribou High School in RSU 39 is the second school in Maine to move to remote learning, after identifying two positive COVID-19 cases and an estimated 70 close contacts on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, several other students had called in to report symptoms of COVID-19, RSU 39 superintendent Tim Doak said, though no additional students have tested positive.

The students will learn remotely from Wednesday until next Tuesday, when they will return to in-person learning if no more positive cases are identified.

Caribou follows Van Buren High School, which became the first school to go remote on Monday after a staff case created a web of close contacts that included almost the entire student body. Limestone and Fort Fairfield delayed the start of their academic years on Tuesday in light of increasing COVID-19 cases.

For now, Caribou High School remains a mask-optional school, but the school board will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the issue. Doak is advocating for implementing a school-wide mask mandate, and said he doesn’t believe in-person learning will be possible without it.

Tamara Lovewell, who has two kids in Caribou High School — one of which was identified as a close contact — and her family just moved to the area, and are still in the process of moving into their house.

Without Wi-Fi and working in a cramped space with their younger siblings, Lovewell said it was difficult transitioning her kids to the online model Wednesday morning. They’re working off of cell-phone hotspots.

“We’re in our RV getting ready to move into our house trying to keep four [kids] quiet to try and keep these boys on audio and visual,” Lovewell said. “We weren’t prepared for this and I don’t want them to get in trouble for being marked absent or anything they’re not doing correctly.”

Classes have been back in session at the high school for less than a week, and Doak said seeing these cases, he’s very concerned about the rest of the year.

“I think a lot of us had a lot of hope back in June — I for one had a lot of hope,” Doak said. “Within a matter of weeks the whole thing changed on us.”

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.