March 19, 2021 Letter from Superintendent Malkas

Dear Students, Families, and Staff Members,

On Tuesday, March 9, 2021, the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education notified all school districts of his plan for a return to in-person learning for students in grades kindergarten to 5, 6 through 8, and 9 through 12. In order to comply with the expectations to meet the time on learning requirements, the phase into full in-person learning will begin on April 5, 2021 for our elementary students in grades preK-6 and for students in the 7th and 8th grade academy on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. A return date for high school students has yet to be announced by Commissioner Riley. Drury High School students will remain in hybrid and remote learning until the date for full in-person is announced.

 Parents and guardians will still have the choice to remain in remote learning or to engage in full in-person learning on the effective date. A survey of parents and guardians has been posted as an “enrollment form” and it is imperative that this form is completed for each child attending North Adams Public Schools to assist in our planning for a safe reopening. Your cooperation in completing the form on or by 5:00 pm today, Friday, March 19, 2021, is greatly appreciated.  If you haven’t already done so, please complete and submit the form for each of your children. The enrollment forms can be accessed on the district website at www.napsk12.org.

 Two family forums were held this past week relaying the latest guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Recordings of the forums will be posted to the district website as soon as possible with a “Frequently Asked Questions” document. In addition, questions can be sent to the district office at familysupports@napsk12.org .

 The Superintendent, Facilities Director, and School Principals have completed a capacity study to determine the number of students that could be safely accommodated with 3 feet of physical distancing from student seat edge to seat edge while in the classroom, 10 feet of educator space from the black or white board to the first row of student desks, and 6 feet of physical distance in areas where masks would not be worn such as during food service and for mask breaks. These parameters will be met for our classrooms at all schools supporting students’ safe return to school.

 The guidance the district has received from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education includes the following:

  • Full time in-person learning means that all structured learning time hours (on average 5 hours per day of structured learning time at the elementary level and 5.5 hours per day at the secondary level) are required to be delivered in-person, 5 days per week.
  • The inclusion of pooled testing programs among the mitigation strategies has improved the health metrics across the state to support in-person learning.
  • Individual students may need to isolate or quarantine and learn remotely if they are symptomatic, diagnosed with COVID-19, or are a close contact of someone who tests positive.
  • Three feet of physical distance between students when wearing masks is scientifically supported as long as other mitigation measures are in place.
  • Where it will be necessary for students to remove masks, such as when eating lunch, students will need to have a minimum six feet of physical distance.
  • Face masks are required to be worn by all students at all grade levels.

 The guidance for in-person learning and school transportation from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education can be viewed at: https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop.html

 Each Thursday evening the Department of Public Health releases the city/town and Berkshire County data updates for the previous 14 day period. There is one new case of COVID-19 associated with the schools for this week, which involved the Drury High School Off Campus Programs located at the Armory (formerly known as the E3 Academy and NBA). Notification of this case occurred by letter from the Superintendent of March 18, 2021, posted to the district website and social media.

The key information used to determine moving to remote learning or remaining with the hybrid model includes:

  • The positivity rate for the City of North Adams: Current rate is 0.33%.
  • The average positivity rate for 15 communities, not including North Adams, calculated from the total positive cases divided by the total number of tests for the last 14 days multiplied by 100: Current rate is 0.56%.
  • The pool testing results for Cohort A for this week and last week’s Cohort B students, staff, and student athletes are reported as negative, except for one pool that was followed up on last Friday, March 12, 2021 with notification to the community.
  • The report by the school nurse leader of the total number of cases of COVID by school and the status of each case (contact tracing, quarantine and self-isolation, and awaiting follow-up test results).

 On Friday, March 19, 2021, the COVID Data Team (a joint labor management team) met to review the data and take a vote for the return to school. The vote was unanimous to accept the data report and support the continuation of the hybrid model effective Monday, March 22, 2021 for all grades.

 In school transmission rates remain very low due to the effective use of all mitigation strategies, including: masks, physical distancing, disinfection protocols, and the addition of a pooled testing program. Your continued use of these mitigation measures while not in school will help to keep our students in school for longer periods of time and possibly get all students back to school for in-person learning. Please practice prevention of infection and as always, if a staff member or student develops symptoms it is imperative that they stay home and contact their health care provider.

 Pooled Testing Program

North Adams Public Schools has implemented a voluntary free weekly COVID-19 testing program to help keep our staff, students and community safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Regular COVID-19 testing of students and staff will help us lower the risk of the disease in our school by finding and isolating individuals who have COVID-19 quickly, even before or if they show symptoms. We have confidence in our safety protocols including masking, distancing, and disinfection protocols. The weekly COVID-19 testing program is just another way we are striving to keep our school environment safe for everyone. It is not too late to provide consent for your child to participate in this valuable program.

 The ability to join the pooled testing program by providing consent will remain an open enrollment and you can submit your consent form at any time. Please provide an individual consent form for each of your children who attends North Adams Public Schools.The more individuals who participate, the safer our schools will be!

 To participate in the testing program, you need to sign a consent form. You only need to sign once to consent for testing each week.  The consent form can be found on the new COVID Pool Testing Program webpage on the district webpage located here.

 Have Questions?  Contact Lauren Gage, District Testing Coordinator and School Nurse Leader at lgage@napsk12.org.

 Thank you and we hope each of you and your families remain healthy!

Dr. Barbara Malkas