Coronavirus precautions keep Island teachers at home

After returning from Italy, Chilmark, Charter School teachers self-quarantine for 14 days.

The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School is continuing many of its educational traditions amid the coronavirus pandemic. — MV Times file photo

Updated March 6

Wanting to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, the Chilmark School and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School are taking an “abundance of caution” and having teachers stay home after returning from separate trips to Italy, according school officials.

In an interview with The Times, Charter School director Pete Steedman said the school is following guidelines set up by the Centers for Disease Control and Gov. Charlie Baker. “As soon as we heard from Gov. Baker with those guidelines, we immediately informed the teacher to stay home [Wednesday] late afternoon and not report until I heard the final word,” Steedman said. On Thursday, in consultation with West Tisbury health agent Omar Johnson, the decision was made for the teacher to remain out of the school for 14 days “out of an abundance of caution,” Steedman said.

Steedman declined to release the name of the teacher, or even which town the teacher lives in saying he is following the advice of health officials to protect the privacy of the individual. He did say the teacher was in class for the first three days of the week before the precautions were taken.

In a letter sent to Charter School parents Thursday, Steedman wrote, “There is no reason to believe that this teacher has contracted a virus. This step is being taken out of an abundance of caution.”

COVID-19 is a virus that has spread rapidly around the globe. Symptoms of the virus range from fever and coughing to shortness of breath, and usually appear two to 14 days after exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The virus spreads through respiratory droplets landing on another person in close contact with an infected person who coughs or sneezes. There is currently no vaccine.

The CDC advises people to stay at home if they are ill. If people develop symptoms, have been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19, or recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community transmission should call their doctor.

Chilmark School principal Susan Stevens told The Times by phone Friday that a teacher at the Chilmark School is staying home after returning from a trip to Italy. The teacher, who Stevens declined to name on the advice of health officials, lives on the Island and did not show any symptoms.

“All of the schools are taking all of the precautions that everyone is safe,” Stevens said. “We’re doing the best with the information we’re given.”

Italy has been one of the hardest hit countries, experiencing widespread community transmission of the virus. The CDC is advising against all non-essential travel to the country and has raised Italy to a level 3 travel warning and asked people returning to the United States to stay at home for 14 days and practice social distancing.

The CDC has also advised against all non-essential travel to China, Iran, and South Korea due to high numbers of confirmed cases.

“This teacher is not in school today and will not return until Monday, March 16. This is the recommended 14 day period following their return from Italy,” Steedman wrote. The Charter School has a trip planned for Italy in April. Earlier this week, Steedman told The Times the school has not made a decision about the trip, which involves 15 to 20 students. He reiterated that on Thursday night.

“I wanted to deal with things one at a time,” Steedman said. “Student safety is our number one concern.”

Meanwhile, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School has canceled two school trips — one to Model United Nations in New York City and a ski trip to New Hampshire planned for this weekend. Some students went to the New York City conference, but went on their own with parent chaperones. 

On Friday, MVRHS released a statement, saying the Island has an emergency preparedness plan in place.

“Island towns have been preparing for emerging infectious diseases for many years. While COVID-19 is a new virus, the coordination, communication efforts, and infrastructure around our public health preparedness is firmly in place,” the email the parents said.

The Steamship Authority has also launched a coronavirus webpage to offer updates. So far, no changes to public transportation have been recommended by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health or the CDC.

“Through this page we will share the latest information that we know about the virus, ways for the traveling public to stay healthy and what steps we are taking in response to the latest health advisories from local, state, and federal officials,” according to press release.

The webpage can be accessed by going to

As of Thursday, the World Health Organization has reported 95,270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 79 countries. The vast majority of cases and deaths are from China, where the virus is thought to have originated. There have been 3,280 confirmed deaths.

These are uncharted waters for school officials. “The whole Island is going through this,” Steedman said. “We’ve been in close contact with [superintendent Matt] D’Andrea and the principals. We’re all doing what we can to follow the CDC and governor’s guidelines, communicating as much as possible while respecting individual privacy.”

George Brennan contributed to this report. Updated to include information that a second teacher is staying home. – Ed.


  1. Is it possible for the Times to perhaps release or get the information on where in Italy this individual traveled to? I know areas of Italy have many more confirmed cases compared to others. This information could prompt people to take better precautions (closing the school for cleaning etc), or on the other hand calm their fears if it wasn’t one of the areas that were hit the hardest.

    • We asked the question and were told they wouldn’t give out any more information that would identify the individual.

      • Thanks. This seems like important information for our community to take proper precautions if there’s a high risk the person may have been exposed. Especially with all the unknowns. I understand protecting the individuals privacy, I just hope that potentially the virus isn’t being spread around in the meantime. We’ve learned a lot from areas of the world and states in the US that didn’t act quick enough or with enough caution. Fingers crossed all turns out ok.

  2. I thought the in idea was to stay away from people the entire time… not possibly spread germs and then go home.

  3. Will all the schools be closing for a few days to bleach the buildings down? I feel it would be a good start to make an effort to keep it safe for the children and workers. Also, has the town talked about when tourist season starts, people will start coming to open their houses in about 6wks (the homeowners behind my house are coming from Italy)? We have international workers starting to come here in May, have the island thought about that yet? Us residents have tons of questions about this virus coming here, but we are not getting enough answers. Js

  4. pick a country, any country. This virus is spreading exponentially.
    Take appropriate personal precautions, but do not give into xenophobia, or blame “others” .
    Listen to REAL health care professionals.

  5. I say if we screen out and or shut down the boats to anyone suspected of being a carrier which would be thousands from off island this summer I say that we put the plaques back on our Civil War Statue!

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