MONSON, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- First day of in-person classes for one Hampden County school district is being pushed back.

“We're working to keep everyone safe and that is our priority,” Superintendent Cheryl Clarke said. 

Clarke said that the town currently had 12 positive cases of COVID-19 identified in the last week, a significant increase compared to the last few weeks..

“Monson is a small knit town,” she said. “It's a close knit town and I just couldn't in good conscience open our doors knowing there was this cluster and possible further positive results for families or students.”

She said there's been more large gatherings in town, and mask guidelines are not being adhered to in some cases.

“Potentially these people at parties may not test positive for another week or so,” she said. “So that in combination with this uptick really brought us to this decision.”

After consulting with the town administrator, Board of Health and the school district’s nurse leader, Clarke determined the risk was too high to bring the students back.

“We were ready to open our doors tomorrow,” she said. “We're very disappointed, but I'd rather wait a couple of weeks and see the trends before we open.”

In-person learning will now begin on Monday, Sept. 21 with remote learning starting Sept. 14.

The days missed this week from Wednesday through Friday will be added on to the end of the school year.

“Right now with those three days added, we're still just June 15, so still early in June,” she said. 

Clarke said the move was better to make now, rather than waiting for the kids to already be in school making the spread potentially even worse.

Clarke said no employees or students in the district have tested positive. Learning materials will be delivered to homes Wednesday and Thursday.

That number, Clarke noted, was a "significant increase over prior weeks."  She did note that none of the cases involve current students or school employees.

Clarke continued in a message to families sent Monday:

"However, Monson is a small town, and we know there have been large gatherings that have occurred over the last week in Monson and surrounding communities with Monson residents in attendance where social distancing and mask guidelines were not adhered to. There are many people who have pending test results and who are self-quarantining. We cannot and will not take the chance that a person who attended a party or was exposed to someone who is carrying the virus enters our school buildings."

Clarke explained that school officials will continue to follow the data, trends, and metrics and will update families should the suspension of in-person learning need to be extended past September 21.

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