LEESCHOOLSFIRSTDAY

Students wait on marked lines outside Lee Elementary School, until they are led in on the first day of in-person classes in September. Lee has moved temporarily to remote learning for all schools amid a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases.

LEE — A post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases has prompted Lee Public Schools to send students home — temporarily — for remote learning.

And Berkshire Hills Regional School District students will remain in remote learning mode for at least another week.

Lee district officials made the decision to suspend the hybrid education model as of Monday, likely lasting until Jan. 26, according to Superintendent Michael Richard.

State health officials reported Lee has been in the “red” the last two weeks, reporting a positivity rate of almost 10 percent as of Jan. 7.  The red zone is the worst of the four-color levels for COVID 19 in Massachusetts.

The rate had dropped to 7.2 percent as of Thursday, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Tri-Town Health Department Director James Wilusz said it was inevitable Lee would have to revert back to remote learning in all grade levels as districts surrounding the town had been all-remote for at least several weeks due to high positivity rates. Tri-Town serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.

“I want to commend the Lee schools for going hybrid as long as they have,” Wilsuz told the Lee School Committee during its monthly Zoom meeting on Tuesday night.

While Lee had seen a spike in COVID-19 cases prior to Christmas week, the majority were at the town’s two elderly care facilities: Lee Healthcare and The Landing at Laurel Lake. The recent spike among the general population was triggered, in part, by a restaurant employee at 51 Park who exposed co-workers to the illness, Wilusz said. He noted that 51 Park had followed all COVID-19 protocols for sanitation and mask wearing.

The restaurant reopened Jan. 8, two weeks after reporting the potential COVID-19 case.

“We have lots of students who work [at 51 Park] and we wanted to stem any spread,” Richard told The Eagle in an email on Wednesday. “We were absolutely ready for the flip to remote; teachers, support staff and administrators had been planning for this for months.”

He added, “When we return, we will do so in the hybrid format that we were in since Sept. 16.”

Under Lee’s hybrid learning model, two groups of students in grades 3-12 alternate days for in-person learning. On other days, students complete online assignments at home. K-2 and special education students attend school every day. Families do have the option of full remote learning.

Wilusz said returning to a combination of in-person and virtual learning on Jan. 26 is a possibility as some neighboring towns, like Lenox, are already seeing a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases.

Also Wednesday, Berkshire Hills Superintendent Peter Dillon sent a note to the school community explaining the decision to hold off on a return to in-person school.

“I am hoping that when we return on [Jan. 25], it will be in person for grades PK-6 and in a hybrid model for grades 7-12. This is all contingent upon where we are with the data early next week,” he wrote.

“We currently have six positive cases of COVID-19 across our three school,” he wrote. “I wish those people speedy recoveries. Thankfully, as we are coming off a break, there has not been any contact or school-based transmission.”

This story has been modified to update the town's positivity rate and to reflect that 51 Park has reopened.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com