Ellsworth resident Casey Hardwick, who last week narrowly lost being elected to the city's school board, argues against requiring masks in Ellsworth's schools during a school board meeting held in August at Ellsworth Elementary Middle School. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Classes at Ellsworth Elementary Middle School were canceled on Monday after 11 new cases of COVID-19 were detected among students and staff.

The school was closed on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

“We already have multiple students and staff members in quarantine,” Ellsworth schools Superintendent Dan Higgins said in a letter sent out Monday to parents. “This decision [to close the school for a day] is being made to protect the health and safety of all students and staff and permit our staff to properly and thoroughly complete the contact tracing process and contact families of close contacts.”

The new cases are in addition to the 33 cases detected among students and staff at the school in the past 30 days, according to data from the state Department of Education released last Thursday. The K-8 school had the second highest among elementary schools in Maine, behind 39 cases at Winslow Elementary School in Kennebec County.

The rise in cases comes as Ellsworth’s school board prepares for a large crowd expected at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday at Ellsworth High School, to discuss how the pandemic is affecting the schools.

Kelly McKenney, the chairwoman of the board, said the board plans to address some misinformation that has spread about how the school department will manage winter sports competitions.

“Many folks seem to believe that we have decided to not allow spectators at winter sporting events,” McKenney said. “I have no idea where this information came from, but this is absolutely not the case.”

The board, she said, has not yet discussed the coming winter sports season.

Ellsworth’s school board meetings have been drawing crowds since this summer, when the board struggled to decide whether to require masking in local schools before settling on a policy of requiring masks in school buildings whenever Hancock County or neighboring Penobscot County is deemed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having a “substantial” or “high” community transmission rate. Both counties remain in the CDC’s “high” transmission category.

However, things are changing. Late last week, children ages 5 through 11 became eligible to be vaccinated for the disease after  the CDC gave the final sign off necessary.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....