A student or staff member at West Middle School has tested positive for COVID-19, according to an email sent to parents last Wednesday by Principal Tim Corkery.

Students who were in contact with the infected person are quarantining for 14 days and "are strongly encouraged to get tested," he said.

This is the first positive case of the highly infectious disease in the Andover schools since the district reopened last month amid controversy and conflict.

On their first day of professional development Aug. 31, school officials reported that nearly 45% of teachers refused to enter the buildings to work, as assigned. Just days before, Aug. 26, Andover Education Association members voted to hold a workplace safety action — and not enter buildings — citing safety concerns over the virus.

The union was opposed to the School Committee’s Aug. 10 decision to start the year with a hybrid learning model — a mix of classroom and remote learning. The union wanted to start the year remotely.

The School Committee then voted to authorize the district’s legal counsel to petition the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations to conduct a strike investigation.

On Sept. 8, the state Department of Labor Relations issued a ruling that the AEA had conducted an illegal strike Aug. 31. In the ruling, the Department of Labor Relations ordered the AEA and its officers to immediately “cease and desist from engaging in any strike, work stoppage, slowdown or other withholding of services.”

Since then, teachers have been back in the classrooms, teaching in-person and remotely.

There are approximately 50 teachers and 550 students in the school, located at 70 Shawsheen Road, near Andover High School. 

Communications Director Nicole Keiser, who announced last week she is leaving her position, said 120 students are in the remote academy and 430 students in the hybrid learning model.

"It's important to note that our cohorts of students in the hybrid model are split -- approximately 215 students attend school in-person on Monday/Tuesday and 215 students on Thursday/ Friday," she said. "All students learn remotely on Wednesdays in order to provide us the opportunity for thorough cleanings at all buildings in the district."

Corkery said the school was ready.

"We have been planning for this scenario during our reopening planning process and have a comprehensive plan in place to sanitize the school, inform families whose students were at risk of exposure or in close contact, and support the affected family as they navigate this stressful experience," Corkery said in the email to parents. "Our first responsibility is to keep our students and staff safe."

The principal did not return a call or email for comment.

Andover Board of Health Director Tom Carbone confirmed the case, adding, "as with all positive cases, we are initiating contact tracing, and will be contacting anyone identified as a close contact."

According to the town website, there are 10 active COVID-19 cases in town.

Corkery also said in the email to parents that "our student body and staff have been closely adhering to the safety protocols including mask wearing, hand-washing and physical distancing. We are grateful to our families for their continued efforts to keep students home at the first sign of symptoms. These measures, taken in combination, greatly reduce the risk of additional transmission."

He said the school would provide remote learning for "all students required to quarantine at home to continue to receive instruction and an emotional connection to the classroom during a time that we know will be challenging for those children and families involved." 

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