As surrounding towns of Abington, Rockland and Bridgewater-Raynham have had to return to fully remote learning due to COVID-19 spikes in their communities, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak is working to keep W-H on it’s hybrid plan
“Honestly and truly we’re kind of hanging on by our fingertips and toes right now to try and stay in school,” Szymaniak reported to the School Committee during its Wednesday, Dec. 16 meeting. “Last week, the numbers were pretty high, we’ve leveled off a little bit.”
Members Christopher Scriven and Fred Small attended the meeting via phone. Small has been doing so for a few months and Scriven was ill.
Another member David Forth was absent, and quarantining after a possible exposure to the coronavirus.
There were 29 positive students from Dec. 9 to 16, according to Szymaniak — 20 of those became positive while in quarantine as many of the positive cases are among siblings. Seven staff members tested positive during that same period.
There were 142 students and 21 staff were in various stages of illness between Dec. 1 and 16. Many of those have tested out and completed quarantine.
Lead Nurse Lisa Tobin is required to report the number of student in a building the past seven days, but the district tracks the students who have already been in quarantine. There have been no teacher-to-student transmissions, Szymaniak said.
The district was shut down for snow removal during the Thursday, Dec. 17 storm so students in the Friday cohort could be at school before the planned switch to all-remote on Dec. 21 and 22 as a dry-run to see how it will work if needed later.
Szymaniak said he has spoken with both boards of health and reported that officials in Whitman and Hanson are concerned with social interactions over Christmas break.
Assistant Superintendent George Ferro reported W-H is among the 68 percent of Massachusetts schools meeting 35-hour time-on-learning standards during hybrid learning.
“We are fine for all the models we are using,” he said.
Athletic Director Bob Rodgers said there has not been a single transmission of COVID through sports participation so far this year. Parents will be allowed to attend home games, but because of crowd restrictions all Patriot League games will be streamed online.
Szymaniak said he has met with the Whitman Finance Committee and that the fiscal 2022 budget picture is still unclear.
“We don’t have direction from the Commonwealth yet, from the governor’s office to the Board of Education to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” he said. “We’re all hanging out there in limbo.”
He said he is not the only superintendent with that frustration.
Szymaniak also told the FinCom the district does not plan to complicate things financially by adding, or adding back, programs.
“I don’t feel it’s the time,” he said. “We still don’t know what school is going to look like next year.”
Neither a new no-cost all-day kindergarten program or a return of middle school foreign language is planned for the coming year.
Transportation issues are also unclear.
WHRHS Principal Dr. Christopher Jones presented the proceeds of the National Honor Society’s 11th annual Miles for Meals 5K and one-mile walk. The event, held virtually on Oct. 31 this year, raised $2,190 through Go Fund Me as participants were encouraged to walk/run the event in costume and share photos on social media.
“This is another wonderful thing that happens here at Whitman-Hanson,” Hayes said, suggesting that more advance publicity of such and event could help raise more donations.
“That’s a teacher and a group, during COVID, coming together and thinking outside the box to make sure we’re still taking care of our community. You’re seeing that in every school. They’re doing things differently.”
The WHRHS Key Club has also just completed a toy drive.
“There’s a lot of giving going on, a lot of charity,” Jones said. “The creativity that’s going on for people to get around the traditional face-to-face type of things is fantastic to see, and shows the spirit of giving that these kids have — and the type of community service that they’re displaying — isn’t just something for show.”
Committee member Dawn Byers also commended the WHRHS Panther’s Den store, which has converted its holiday sales to online shopping.
She and Jones stressed the effort is led by the Visual Merchandising students.
“The class set that up and set up a website to do virtual merchandising instead of out of the store and now they have curbside pickup,” he said.