There are currently 31 students and staff in quarantine for COVID-19 by either Whitman, Hanson health boards, or the boards of health where teachers live, but no decision is being made right now on the future of hybrid learning.
There have been 12 positive student cases and one positive in the district so far, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak reported to the School Committee at the Wednesday, Oct. 21 meeting.
“As of this week, we have 35 students coming out of quarantine and they all — or a large majority — were in a hockey cluster,” he said. “We’ve had zero transmission within the district. Our kids are abiding by the rules that we’ve set forward with the boards of health, with the Mass. Department of Public Health. We’re doing the right things.”
Szymaniak stressed there have been zero transmissions within the school district, and voiced frustration about color-coded risk assessments for communities issued by the (DPH).
He said he would look to the boards of health to make recommendations on whether or not students should stay in school if both towns in the district end up in the red zone.
“It’s not going to be a lone decision on my part,” Szymaniak said. “If they close us, it’s their decision.
He stressed he does not think a decision will be made without input from the regional school district. He is also concerned about the impact of surrounding districts — where some of W-H’s teachers reside — going to remote learning and their own children have no place to go while they are teaching here.
Szymaniak said he has conferred with area superintendents and all are now of the mind that schools are not affected as they are cleaner and safer than they have ever been.
There is a remote plan set to go if it is needed, however, he said.
“The concern I have is the state map,” he said. “We know Hanson went into the red last week, Whitman was in yellow last week.” Based on numbers reported after Columbus Day weekend, Szymaniak anticipates Whitman will also soon be in the red.
“What does that mean?” Szymaniak said, noting he issued a letter to parents and staff last week saying that just because the towns are in the red, doesn’t mean school will be interrupted.
Gov. Baker’s guidance of going to remote after three weeks in the red, has been followed by a contradictory message from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that decisions should be based on internal data — not just on whether a town is in the red area.
“Right now, we have one week in the red in Hanson and we are a district,” he said, explaining that, if Hanson stays in the red it is almost like Whitman students are also in the red. “We’re not going to say to the Whitman kids, ‘Come to school,’ and the Hanson kids stay home.”
Szymaniak said lead nurse Lisa Tobin is practically working around the clock, even taking calls from parents at home during weekends.
“I’ve got to give praise to both boards of health,” Szymaniak said. “They are working their tails off with us.” Health officials have been calling the school, if necessary, in terms of contact tracing.
“If you’re six feet apart and you’re wearing a mask it is safe and parents and families need to know that,” said School Committee member Hillary Kniffen, who is also a teacher. She said 12 cases in a district student population of 3,800 students, the risk is minimal.
In other business before the School Committee, school principals were afforded the opportunity to update the committee on what students are doing and what education looks like in a “COVID world” at their respective buildings.
“The most important part of our opening really has been that the kids are so excited, so happy to be there and we are, as well,” Conley Elementary Principal Karen Downey said, noting the special distancing and cleaning efforts under way to keep students and staff safe. “Kids are having individual supplies, as opposed to shared supplies, we’re cleaning the seats and the work areas in between [classroom changes] during travel time between classes.”
There are seating charts in all classrooms and special areas such as the lunchroom, and Chromebooks are cleaned and inspected by an industrial hygienist twice a week.
Indian Head interim Principal Gary Pelletier added that students are provided scheduled mask breaks and there are assigned seats on the bus and cafeteria.
Eucationally, he lauded the alignment of curriculum in all elementary buildings. New software, technology glitches and Chromebook capacity are among the challenges teachers are seeing.
Hanson Middle School Principal William Tranter notes that teachers rotate and students stay in classrooms all day — including lunch.
“None of us ever took the class, ‘How to Teach in a Pandemic,’” Tranter said. “Every day, we get a little bit better. We learn something, we figure it out, we make changes, and it gets a little bit better every day.”
Szymaniak said there have been no detentions or disciplinary issues at the middle schools.
“I think kids want to be here,” he said.
High School Principal Dr. Christopher Jones credited teachers, staff and students for making a flexible educational approach that is more focused on relationships with maximized learning with teachers, and constant communication a success.
Students at home are paired with students in the classroom to improve cohesion. All floors, except the main floor have one-way foot traffic.
They are struggling in terms of teacher workload and school culture, however.
Remote schooling principal Michael Grable reported that, “It’s been an interesting ride, so far.”
There are 316 students in kindergarten through grade eight in the remote program, learning at home full time, taught by nine teachers and five paraprofessionals.