‘Our decision to have the 8 days of distance learning was right’
EG public schools will return to in-person learning Jan. 11 as scheduled, Supt. Alexis Meyer told the School Committee Tuesday night. Based on the number of COVID-positive test results she’s gotten since the move to distance learning Dec. 21 – 14 – Meyer said her decision to bracket the Christmas vacation with distance learning on either side was prudent.
“Our decision to have the 8 days of distance learning turns out to be the right decision,” she said during the virtual School Committee meeting (find a video of the meeting HERE). “There would have been a significant impact on our schools,” she said, based on the number of cases since. She added she anticipated at least an additional 5 COVID-positive results based on contacts with families and staff; the 14 number is what she’s heard officially from the state Department of Health.
“It’s clear that we’re seeing a post-holiday surge,” she said.
School in the district has resumed but is virtual for most students through this week, with in-person for students with special needs (what the district now calls “special populations”) Thursday and Friday.
Meyer said all six district school nurses had gotten a first dose of the Moderna vaccine and the nurses were working to implement asymptomatic testing at all the schools as soon as possible. Details need to be worked out but the testing will be voluntary and students will need to have consent forms signed by parents.
“We will have a plan in place if someone tests positive; there are quarantine rooms in every school building,” Meyer said. The test that will be used – the BinaxNOW – can be self-administered (for older students), does not go as deep into the nose, and results are available in 15 minutes, she said.
Meyer emphasized that this new testing – taking place in school – was for people without symptoms. Those with symptoms need to stay home and schedule a test through the Dept. of Health’s website HERE, she said.
School Committee Chair Anne Musella asked about the test’s reliability. Member Alyson Powell, citing Meadowbrook School Nurse Denise Sullivan, said a negative result was 80 percent accurate and a positive result was 98 percent accurate.
During public comment, parent Jaclyn Boichat asked if the district could reconsider its stance on quarantining after travel, saying the CDC had relaxed its guidelines regarding quarantine.
She was referring to the need for a student (or staff member) who travels to quarantine for 14 days after returning from travel outside the state. Non-traveling students who are exposed to someone who later tests positive must wait at least 7 days before getting a virus test but then can return to school if the test is negative.
Boichat said this didn’t seem fair and she said she hoped the district would reevaluate the policy before the February break or at least the April break.
Supt. Meyer was sympathetic and noted, “No decision has been easy in any of this,” but added, “We can only rely on the guidance the science tells us.… It is not recommended that travel happen at this time, especially with that new variant out there.”
Meyer was referring to a more-contagious COVID-19 mutation that has been confirmed in four states so far, including New York. (Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday he assumes the variant is in his state undetected.)
School Committeeman Tim Munoz asked Meyer if there was any news about when teachers and staff would be able to get the vaccine.
Meyer said there was a meeting Friday about Phase 2 – teachers and staff are due to get the vaccine during Phase 2 but that it will be contingent on supply. Vaccination for Phase 1 is taking place now, including health care workers, those who work at hospitals in any capacity, people in nursing homes, and first responders.
Meyer expressed her eagerness for school teachers and staff to get the vaccine.
“I would say they’re frontline workers too,” she said. “They should have access.”