PINE ISLAND — An increase in COVID-19 infection rates among fifth- and sixth-grade students at Pine Island Middle School have led to more stringent protocols for student movements in the school.

"We saw an upward trend in the number of positive cases," said Pine Island Middle School Principal Josh Westphal. "We monitor the number of positive cases, and when they went up, we wanted to take a step back on the movement students make."

Westphal said the increased infection rates were only among students in those two grades.

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Superintendent Tamara Champa said as infection rates change, principals at the schools are allowed to change COVID mitigation protocols.

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To combat the spread of COVID-19 at the school, Pine Island Middle School made changes regarding the movement of students within the building beginning last Thursday.

While Champa said she was not sure of the exact numbers in the infection rate change, she said it was enough to change protocols but not enough to warrant a closure of the school. Furthermore, even though the middle school and high school are in the same building, the students from various grades do not generally intermix, so there was no reason to make changes for students in other grades.

The changes were explained in a letter sent to parents of fifth- and sixth-grade parents on Thursday.

Since then, students have stayed in their homeroom classrooms for core classes, 100 Book, and target time and teachers move to the different classrooms to teach different subjects. Students are also limited in their movements around those classrooms themselves.

While students in those grades have eaten lunch in the lunchroom, they sit in their homeroom groups.

Finally, the letter said specialists and music classes would utilize extra precautions to separate students and minimize movements.

The new mitigation strategies, which are similar to strategies used last year, are set to end at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, Westphal said. With MEA weekend keeping students out of school for four days, it is hoped that the infection rate drops and the strategies can end.

Pine Island Schools currently has a mask mandate for all students in both its buildings. That mandate is set to expire at the end of the quarter, Oct. 29, unless the school board chooses to extend it.

As for why those two grades are being impacted, Westphal said, "There's no upward trend in other grades, and we don’t know what caused it."