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Three Carroll County private schools delay school return from Thanksgiving break

Gerstell Academy, Carroll Christian Schools and St. John Catholic School have delayed returning students to the classroom following the Thanksgiving break in light of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Carroll County.

Private schools have seen relatively few outbreaks this school year, which can be attributed at least in part to small class sizes, resources and protocols. Still, three are taking some time off from in-person instruction.

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John Polasko, president of Gerstell Academy in Finksburg, said Gerstell is opting to have remote instruction this week, buying time to look at the numbers and make a decision whether to remain fully virtual until winter break starts Dec. 18. He said Monday the reentry committee will discuss it more and make a final decision Wednesday.

Carroll Christian is also online-only this week and St. John Catholic School in Westminster delayed students’ return to school by two days.

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Polasko said Gerstell Academy, which has about 400 students, had one outbreak from its middle school that resulted in three people testing positive for the virus, in September. More recently, about 25 students and a handful of teachers were considered close contacts, and some are quarantined until Dec. 8, he said.

Polasko said he believes there have been about five total positive tests from members of the school community all semester.

Matthew Reisberg, Carroll Christian’s principal, said the school of about 330 students has had zero in-school transmission of the coronavirus during the 15 weeks it has been open. And two cases of students contracting the virus from outside the school.

He said students are learning from home this week to give extra time for possible symptoms to show from any Thanksgiving gatherings that took place last week.

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“With the students home for the week we would know if any symptoms were showing before they were around other students,” Reisberg said in an email. “We are set up to do a regular school day but just have the students at home.”

St. John Catholic School Principal Jo Marie Tolj said students are learning virtually Monday and Tuesday to account for anyone who traveled to hotspot coronavirus areas for the holiday.

Of the 297 St. John students, there have been no positive tests for the virus, Tolj said. About 10% of students are learning virtually and anyone who may have a symptom or live with someone who’s a close contact or tested positive for the virus, are allowed to stay home and switch to virtual learning.

Carroll’s other private schools returned to in-person learning this week.

Mandy Gilbart, principal of Carroll Lutheran School, said she does not see the logic in delaying students’ return to school after Thanksgiving break “if you’re not going to double down and commit to 14 days” of quarantining.

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