Reopening New Jersey: High school school resumes sports, activities after contact tracing woods party

VERONA, New Jersey (WABC) -- A New Jersey high school has decided to resume sports and extracurricular activities ahead of schedule after contact tracing a party in the woods that was attended by scores of students without masks or social distancing.

Verona High School initially suspended all after-school activities for two weeks after learning of the large weekend gathering and reports of a possible positive test for COVID-19.

"The investigation into this matter by the Montclair Department of Health has now concluded, which includes case and contact evaluations in Verona and gathering additional details of the weekend events," Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio said in a letter to parents. "After careful consideration and investigation, the Montclair Department of Health determined that school activities may now resume."

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Officials say all activities are resuming on Thursday, but any student who attended or attends large gatherings should monitor himself or herself for symptoms two to 14 days after the event. If any symptoms appear, the student should stay home and consult their medical provider.

Verona had already gone virtual, with students spending hours at home learning remotely. But many of them had expressed outrage over losing their outlet of sports, activities and band practice.

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

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

Still, she said kids shouldn't suffer if there wasn'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 insisted the precautions were 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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