Reopening New Jersey: High school pauses sports, extracurricular activities after large party in the woods

VERONA, New Jersey (WABC) -- A large gathering of students without masks or social distancing has prompted a New Jersey high school to halt all sports and extracurricular activities.

The after school activities are on pause at Verona High School for at least two weeks following the party in the woods and reports of a possible coronavirus case.

Verona had already gone virtual, with students spending hours at home learning remotely. But now, many of them have lost their outlet of sports, activities and band practice after a weekend party where it appears proper precautions were not being practiced.

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According to a letter from the superintendent, there is, at best, an unconfirmed report of one case of COVID-19 among those who attended.

"This is an allegation the Verona Public School District takes very seriously," Dr. Rui Dionisio wrote. "The Verona Public School District does not have verified details at this time as to the students who were at the gathering or who may or may not have COVID-19. If your student was at this alleged gathering, please consult your family physician and monitor your student for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in addition to self-quarantine for 14 days."

It has now become an issue for debate, however, with outraged parents and students holding a small protest Tuesday afternoon.

Dina Devivo said her daughter -- who attended the party and reported there were about 60 kids present -- plays tennis, and the already-shortened season now has another setback.

Devivo says the punishment does not fit the actual course of events, since large outdoor gathering can have 500 people. However, they must follow safety measures.

Still, she says kids shouldn't suffer if there isn't a confirmed case of COVID from the party.

"I think it's a decision that was made on an assumption," she said. "Unless there's a positive case and it's confirmed, which, if there is a positive case, then you quarantine the person or the immediate people that were exposed to that person, not the entire school from sports. Absolutely not."

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Devivo said her daughter, a senior, was responsible and that students have had big gatherings on the football field as part of their senior activities. But the superintendent insists the precautions are necessary to ensure the safety and well being of students and staff.

"It is important to remind all parents, guardians, and students, that large gatherings and congregations that do not follow COVID-19 safety expectations may result in the cancellation of school and school programs until it has been deemed safe to return," Dr. Dionisio wrote. "We remind our community to do your part to make sure that our personal behaviors do not interfere with the goal of incrementally and safely reopening our schools and activities. We thank you for your understanding and continued support."

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