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Family Meeting: Health & Safety

On Wednesday, August 26, Dr. Gutekanst held a meeting on the district Health and Safety plans for the upcoming school year in the setting of COVID-19. Notable attendees included Barbara Singer, Director of Needham School Health Services, Dr. Alan Stern, School Physician for the district, Timothy McDonald, Director of Health and Human Services for the Town of Needham, and Professor Alan Geller from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. The meeting was attended by approximately 250 people and was recorded for those who were unable to attend.

The meeting started with a brief overview of the data and requirements to allow schools to open.  In summary:

  • MA is below the national average in terms of positive cases of COVID-19

  • Needham cases have continued to be low, with a very slight spike at the end of July

  • Recent positive test rate in Needham was 0.67%, well below the state average of about 2% positivity

Safety measures for in-person learning

  • In order to allow schools to open with in-person learning, students, faculty and staff, and families will all need to work together to continue to keep numbers low

  • A number of safety measures will be in place in schools. Everyone will be required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing of 3-6 feet

  • Students will be expected to bring 2 cloth masks to school with them each day. Masks should be 2-3 layers of fabric and fit well. Bandanas, gators, and masks with valves will NOT be allowed.

  • Plexiglass will be installed in areas of high traffic in buildings, such as the main office and cafeteria lines

  • Schools will only open in-person if it is deemed to be safe from a public health standpoint

Responsibilities for Students, Families, and Staff

  • Families will have to sign an attestation that says they will monitor the health of their children daily and will not send them to school if they have any signs or symptoms of illness

  • Hand sanitizer is considered an over-the-counter medication, so a form will be sent home allowing parents to opt out if they do not want their child to use hand sanitizer at school

  • It will be very important to make sure contact information is updated on PowerSchool, including 4 adults who will be available within 45 minutes to pick up any child who becomes ill during school

  • All students must be up to date on immunizations, including a meningitis vaccine for those in 7th and 11th grades, and a flu vaccine for all pre-K-12 students before December 31.

  • Students and staff are expected to follow safety protocols at school

  • Anyone who exhibits any sign of illness is expected to stay home

  • All families and staff are expected to follow the MA state guidelines regarding travel; if anyone has traveled to a high risk state they are expected to quarantine for 14 days or provide a negative COVID test within 72 hours of returning to MA

  • Staff will report any building maintenance issues to the school principal who will then notify at Rapid Response team

School and building maintenance

  • A maintenance handbook will be provided online and update regularly as policies change

  • Students will help clean desks and tables at the end of the day; K-5 students will use warm soapy water and older students will use disinfectant sprayed by the teacher

  • The district is collaborating with the Chan School of Public Health at Harvard to evaluate ventilation and air quality in the buildings, particularly Pollard and Mitchell

    • Testing was done at Pollard to ensure adequate airflow through classrooms, data can be extrapolated to Mitchell

    • Classes with no windows may not have adequate airflow, and therefore these classes would not be used until the ventilation systems could be updated

    • A full report will be coming in the next few weeks

  • School will only open in-person if it is deemed to be safe for staff and students.  This could mean that some buildings are able to open while others need to remain remote until updates can be made.

Medical Update from Dr. Stern

  • Dr. Stern provided a brief demonstration on the types of masks available and how they should be used

  • Staff may be wearing eye or face shields in addition to masks depending on the type of exposure they have to students

  • Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever ≥100℉, new cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, headache without other cause, sore throat, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea) must stay home and call their doctor

    • If another diagnosis can be determined (i.e. sore throat and fever with positive strep test), can be treated and have doctor’s note and return to school when fever-free for 24 hours

    • If no confirmed alternate diagnosis, need negative COVID test or to quarantine for 10 days

    • Guidelines are changing daily, so may be different by the time school starts back

Update from Professor Geller from Harvard Chan School of Public Health

  • DPH provides weekly reports per town, allows for tracking of trends

  • Each school has a Health and Safety committee to report on student and staff adherence to safety guidelines, reports back to town committee

  • The success of in-person learning relies on everyone following protocols

The remainder of the meeting was dedicated to questions from the community.  Highlights included:

What if someone tests positive

  • Strict contact tracing procedures are in place.  If there is a positive case in a classroom, all members of that class (students and staff) will be considered close contacts and will need to quarantine for 14 days.  For the middle and high schools, this may mean that multiple classes need to quarantine for 1 positive case.  Contacts through extracurricular activities (clubs, sports, etc.) will also be required to quarantine.

  • If a hybrid student is out sick or required to quarantine but feels well enough to learn, he/she may join in on the remote learning for the time he/she is out of school

  • Families of a student or staff member who are considered a close contact will be notified, but there will not be a general notification on cases throughout the district.  No names will be identified per HIPAA guidelines.

  • There is no specific cut-off for the number of positive cases after which a school/schools would close. If there is a cluster of positive cases at any given school then they will act quickly to contain and possibly move to all remote learning if needed.

  • Protocols are changing daily, so guidelines that were outlined today may not be what is in place once school starts

General questions

  • Attendance will be taken this year, but they will be very flexible, especially if someone is missing days due to possible illness. Everyone is encouraged to stay home if they feel at all ill. There will be no penalties, especially at the higher levels, for excess absences for illness.

  • Dr. Gutekanst has mentioned several times that he thinks this may be our new normal for the next 18-24 months. This is his personal opinion, and he’s trying to prepare the community that this could be what things are like for a while. If the science and data change and it looks like we’re able to move back towards more “normal” learning then we will do so, but only when it is deemed to be safe for all.

  • No one (students or staff) is exempt from wearing a mask in school. If someone feels they or their child is unable to wear a mask, a proposed exemption with documentation will have to go through the School Physician

  • Clear masks were ordered for some staff (ELL teachers, those who work with hearing impaired students), but they are not without issues.  No clear masks have been ordered for students

  • Flu shots are not required for staff but are highly encouraged

  • The district is looking into air purifiers for rooms that do not currently have adequate ventilation, pending the report from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health


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