Another Marin County high school shuts down in-person learning after off-campus parties

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- A second Marin County high school has suspended in-person classes over concerns students might spread COVID-19 after un-authorized, off-campus parties.

"So these are our outdoor classrooms," said Chris Mazzola, pointing out blue tents, camping chairs, and white boards set-up throughout the Branson campus.

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Mazzola, the head of Branson, a private high school in the small town of Ross, decided to shut down in-person learning Tuesday,

"There were gatherings, a couple in the City and one in Marin on Halloween weekend, that had larger numbers of students."

In a letter to parents, Mazzola said students were unmasked and not socially distanced at the gatherings.

The school already dealt with two asymptomatic COVID infections before Halloween.

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"That's really why we had to close down school, to make sure there weren't any infections as a result of those gatherings."

"Our job is to teach them that we're not in normal times and that we all have to make sacrifices if we want to be here in school," Mazzola went on to say.

"This was a very small minority of Branson students who actually went to these parties. Personally I didn't hear about them either, nor do I know of anybody who went to one," said Foster Lehman, a senior at Branson.

Lehman and Helena Curry are co-student body presidents.

"I think the school made a great call to have us all go back online because I know personally, the faculty they're risking their lives to come to Branson," said Curry.

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Two miles away, Marin Catholic paused classroom learning for the same reason just three weeks ago.

"Teenagers want to be with each other above all, so it's not unexpected that they would want to do this," explained Mazzola, who said all students and faculty will be getting COVID tests on Thursday, and if everyone tests negative, the school can return to classroom learning next week.

"There's such a quality of life improvement of being in person and being with my peers," said Lehman.

Marin County Health Officer, Dr. Matt Willis, said this about the Branson campus closure:

"I applaud the brave step to temporarily reclose Branson, to ensure all the ingredients of safe reopening are in place. The message this sends to this community is essential-not just to the Branson community but to all in Marin. Safely reopening schools is as much about what happens off campus as on campus. With the holidays coming, parents need to know that large gatherings can threaten our ability to safely return kids to school. In our pandemic response we have to take the long view-a pause to step back a few days to reinforce the key messages will make their reopening more stable and safer long-term."

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