On August 23, Dr. Gutekanst hosted a virtual open house for families to review health and safety information, share updates, and respond to questions regarding the start of the 2021-22 school year.
Materials and resources from the meeting are available online:
With a continued commitment to health and safety, the district’s priorities will be:
Responding to the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students, particularly those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic
Moving forward with Portrait of A Needham Graduate strategic priorities
Building on efforts to ensure equity and inclusion for all students
Much of the meeting, as well as parent questions, focused on health and safety measures. The district follows guidance and mandates from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), specifically:
Mandatory masks for students and staff through October 1
No distance requirements
No remote learning option
The school committee will vote on an update to the face covering policy at the 8/26 meeting to reflect the new mask mandate.
They are also rely on the guidance of the Joint Health & Safety Committee, which will consider the following metrics, especially when evaluating possible masking policy changes for vaccinated students and staff after 10/1.
Positive testing rate locally & statewide
14-day average incident rate
Breakthrough infection rate
Percent of Needham school-aged cases
Completion of Health Attestation by 95%
Additional measures will be in place to mitigate risk in classrooms:
Continue with ventilation protocols from last year
No visitors while school in session until 11/1
School health & safety committees
Classroom seating charts
Open windows in lunch rooms, assigned seats, no distancing
The district’s approach to testing and quarantining will be different than last year. The district has provided updated definitions of close contact, and procedures for:
There will be a “Test & Stay” option for students who are considered close contacts but are asymptomatic. These students will be given a rapid antigen test daily for seven days, and will be allowed to remain in school as long as the test is negative AND they are asymptomatic. It should be noted that this is ONLY an option for close contacts within school. Outside exposures must still follow rules from the Department of Public Health.
Teachers will provide support and learning resources for quarantining students, but remote learning will no longer be available. This is because DESE no longer recognizes remote learning as an alternative to in-person instruction.
Dr. Gutekanst then opened the meeting up to questions, which were focused on health and safety concerns. Dr. Gutekanst made the point that the schools are reducing risk, but cannot eliminate it. The importance of having kids in schools outweighs some of these risks.
Vaccination rates: Anecdotal information indicates that over 90% of NPS staff are vaccinated. As of now vaccination is not mandated for employees, and any mandate would come from the state, not individual school districts. Needham is above 80% eligible students vaxxed.
Source: August 5 COVID Update
Surveillance testing: Needham will not be doing surveillance testing at this time because the high rate of vaccination within our population will lead to a significant rate of false positives from PCR tests
Exposure and close contacts: Students who are exposed outside of school should contact the school nurse (see flowchart). An outbreak — two students in a classroom or three within a grade — would trigger a set of protocols, including dispatch of mobile testing through DESE. DESE will also determine how a school closure might be handled. Dr. Gutekanst stressed the need for families to make responsible choices to reduce risk of outbreaks, both in participating in outside activities, and testing when returning from travel.
Test and Stay: Needham believes, given the specific health data in Needham, that Test and Stay will allow more children to stay in school while maintaining health and safety.
School lunches: The 6’ distancing requirement is now gone, but schools will do there bebesrts to optimize spacing between students when eating, and some schools will have tents to allow for outdoor eating and activities. NHS will have open campus for students in grades 10-12.
New elementary schedule: PE has been increased, and will be outdoors more often. Kindergarteners will have spanish, and chorus will be incorporated into music in grades 4-5. More details will be provided by elementary principals.