Covid Update #20

Hello Georgetown Community,
I hope you had a great and safe Fourth of July celebrating COVID style! It is hard to believe that we are already a couple of weeks into July and it seems that time is passing so quickly! This may be because we are working so hard to figure out the best way to return to school in the fall and if you watch the news you can see that this is not a clear and easy decision. I think everyone has the same goal which is to return to school safely and to keep everyone as safe as possible until there is a vaccine and/or the virus is under control. I heard today that reopening schools safely is a public health emergency and schools and districts have been asked to determine the best way to make that happen for their community. Almost everyone I have spoken to wants to see staff and students back in school this fall working together and getting back to some sense of normalcy. However, the big challenge that we face is that we are trying to make a very important decision having to rely on changing and often inconsistent information about this virus, questions about the safety guidelines particularly the social distancing (3ft vs 6ft), concerns about mask wearing and the debate about whether a phased in approach rather than everyone returns at once is the best course of action. In addition, returning to school with any model other than a full return (hybrid or remote) impacts families and staff with children of their own. The experts are divided on whether it is safe to return to school especially in Massachusetts where the virus seems to be under control at this time. The state and medical experts in our area are strongly encouraging a return to school for as many people as possible as long as the safety protocols can be followed. These protocols include (masks must be worn by students and staff in grades 2-12 and are strongly encouraged in preschool -grade 1. Mask breaks must be provided throughout the day (2) social distancing at 6 ft but a minimum of 3 ft with masks on (3) frequent handwashing, sanitation and cleaning of schools and (4) students and staff do not come to school when feeling sick. We are also putting together a remote learning plan either for students who can not return to school for medical reasons or their parents will not allow them to return or if the virus escalates and we all need to revert to remote learning.

I can tell you that formulating a Return to School Plan like this feels like trying to juggle balls that keep moving and just when you think they fall into the right holes and decisions can be made, more balls emerge from outside sources and more things have to be considered. There are many competing interests but, first and foremost, our goal is the safety and wellness of our students, staff and families. Thank you to everyone who completed the remote learning survey. That will help us in making improvements to our plan. We realize that you need to know as soon as possible so you can plan accordingly but we are still waiting for critical information and we need a few weeks to see if things change before deciding on the final plan. I am going to begin publishing a Commonly Asked Questions document this week and adding to it over the course the time we are formulating our plan. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through this process. We share a common goal and we need to work together.

What Has Been Going On in the District?
1. Assessing Ability to Meet the Recommendations for Social Distance
The administrators and Director of Buildings and Grounds have been focused on determining if we can physically meet the medical guidelines in the State’s Return to School Initial Guidance. This involves setting up mock classrooms with the desks and/or tables 3 ft apart which is the minimum standard. We have found that we can accommodate students in all classrooms at Perley and Penn Brook and most classes at the MHS ( a few classes may have to move to larger classrooms or other spaces within the school for certain periods of the day) ensuring we meet the social distancing requirement of a minimum of 3 ft. We have also found out that if we arrange the desks three feet apart, nose to nose, the students are actually just under 6 ft apart which meets and exceeds the DESE guidance and meets the CDC requirements.

2. Process to Formulate the Plan
The state is asking us to formulate a plan with three components (1) return to “in school” for
all students and staff with restrictions (2) a hybrid model that blends in school and remote learning and (3) remote learning only. We have generated an extensive list of the questions that need to be considered and answered to determine the feasibility of each option in order to return to school safely. It is not as simple as being able to fit desks in a room. We have been answering these questions over the past few weeks but there are still many details to consider before a plan is due at the end of July and released to the public (per order of the Commissioner)in early August. Depending on the model that is selected, there are a number of things that have to be upgraded, discussed with union leadership and set up as well as training staff. This will be an ongoing process for the next several weeks but I wanted you to know the process we are following as we prepare the plan for the state and approval of the School Committee.

3. Changes Will Be Made To
Remote Learning
We have reviewed the results of the remote learning survey and unless the virus escalates before school opens or during the fall, the district is not planning to open school with remote learning for most students. Having said that, if we open with a hybrid model, there will be increased structure and accountability for attendance, grading, scheduling and instructional support on the days students are not in school. The details of this are being worked out by our staff and the working reopening task forces.

4. Task Forces to Convene
The School Committee met on Monday, July 13 at 6:00 PM , to get an update and discuss the possible options. Following this meeting, we will be convening three task force working groups beginning this week on Tuesday. They have an ambitious task ahead of them for the next few weeks but their perspectives are critical to coming up with a plan that will be best for Georgetown.

I want to thank all of the staff and parents who offered to serve. There was a tremendous interest from Penn Brook parents so I am going to convene a series of meetings with parents who won’t be on the task force working groups but I want to capture their perspectives and opinions about elements of the planning. We will meet for the first time on Thursday night at 6:00PM

5. Staff and Parent Surveys
Within the next few days, we will be sending out surveys to gather your current opinions and thoughts about the various options. This information can be used by the task force working groups, the administration and the School Committee when formulating our final plan.
Parents with students who are eligible will be asked about bus transportation and whether you plan to have your child/ren ride the bus. I am not sure of the restrictions yet but I anticipate the number of students who can ride the bus at one time may be restricted to 1/3 of the capacity. Masks must be worn at all times regardless of the student’s age. . Please answer this question so we have information about the intention to use the bus.

The GEA has sent out a survey to teachers and the district is going to send out a survey to all staff. Teachers are not required to answer this survey although we would love to hear your thoughts if you want to complete it. I am asking all other staff to complete the survey so we can get a quick assessment of your thoughts and perspective.

The turnaround time for these surveys is quick so we ask you to complete it shortly after you receive it. One survey per family please. This is not the time to “stuff the ballot box” with your favorite choice since that is not the purpose. This is just a quick straw poll to tell us what people are thinking now and to help us plan. When the plan is formulated, there will be an opportunity for parents and staff to tell us about their intention to return to school according to the plan that is approved. We just need a sense of where you are at this time realizing you do not have all the information. This will help us to figure out what families and staff stand at this time. Thank you for your help with this!

6. Purchasing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Establishing Safety Procedures and Protocols
Our Director of Buildings and Grounds has been working with administration and the town to order PPE based on the DESE recommendations using CARES funds that are coming directly to Georgetown from the state. The town has received $700K to address expenses incurred by COVID 19 and the schools are accessing funds to purchase masks, gowns, face shields, protective barriers etc. for use as needed. In addition, every classroom will have a hand sanitizing dispenser installed if there is not a sink and these will also be available in the hallways. He has established a cleaning procedure that includes sanitizing classrooms and schools daily with an antiviral product as well as common surfaces such as doorknobs and hand rails. Bathrooms will be cleaned and sanitized 2-3 times per day. Anti-viral hand towels or spray will be available in every classroom space for on the spot sanitizing.

I hope this update is helpful. Please complete the survey and watch for further updates. If you have questions at any time however, please let me know at jacobsc@georgetown.k12.ma.us.

Please stay safe and well and love every minute of this beautiful summer! Take care!

Carol