NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Schools across Berkshire County will be closed for the next two weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision follows teleconference meetings held on Friday with the state Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and of Public Health, as well as between the Berkshire County Superintendents Roundtable.
DESE left much of the decisionmaking up to local authorities but there was a recommendation that communities seeing an increase in community transmission of the novel coronavirus should consider closing for 14 days. Community transmission means that there are patients who are diagnosed or presumptive for the coronavirus who do not meet the patterns related to international travel or close contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient.
While most of the cases so far identified in Massachusetts have been linked to a Biogen conference in Boston in February, no such connection could be found with the first patient in Berkshire County, a man in his 60s from Clarksburg. Since then, six more people have been identified as part of a Berkshire Medical Center cluster.
North Adams Public Schools district staff are working to ensure that all students will have access to meals during the closure period with meal distribution being made to Colegrove Park and Brayton elementary schools from 11 a.m. to noon daily.
In addition, all NAPS district staff will continue to be paid for the next two weeks.
Mount Greylock Regional School District also confirmed it would be closing next week and reopening on March 30.
"It is important to note that the district currently has no students or staff with presumptive or confirmed cases of COVID-19," Superintendent Kimberley Grady stated in the notice to families and staff. "However, we recognize that neighboring communities do have cases. As a precautionary measure and to limit the potential of community spread, we have made the decision to close school."
Many of the schools closed on Friday for cleaning and Clarksburg School was closed the entire week along with other town buildings.
"This is an unprecedented and challenging decision, but we believe it is the correct decision for our students, our educators, and the community," stated Mayor Thomas Bernard and Superintendent Barbara Malkas in their letter to the school community. "We know this will disrupt routines and lives for many families and caregivers, and we do not have all the answers at this time."
Malkas said she was convinced it would be right decision to close after being informed on Thursday night of an uptick in COVID-19 cases and the number of people who are now self-quarantining.
"I didn't have enough adults to safely and effectively supervise our students," she said, adding that she and the mayor had been preparing for this eventuality. "Our decisions are based on what is good for the community."
Additional information regarding to access to technology for educational programming and communication with the administration can be found at the district website.
In a post on the McCann Technical School website, Superintendent James Brosnan wrote that the school year would on June 25, as things stand now.
"We realize this is a disruptive measure to take and has implications that will ripple through the community but also recognize the gravity of the situation with all the other districts around us closed and feel we are acting in the best interest of all parties involved," he wrote.
State officials had provided guidelines for prohibiting assemblies of 250 or more and to alter group interactions by staggering lunches, recesses and entry and dismissal times. Many schools had already taken action on other recommendations such as eliminating after-school activities and field trips and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent John Franzoni said it was difficult for schools to carry out those types of staggering or getting students, especially younger ones, to practice social distancing of the advised 3 to 6 feet. What it hadn't done is recommended closure.
Only in the case of community transmission, "School leadership should strongly consider closing" for the two-week recommended quarantine. However, the statement also reads "there are no communities in the Commonwealth that meet this criteria."
"The state hasn't been giving us the guidance we need," Franzoni said at a meeting of Clarksburg town official earlier in the day. The Board of Selectmen voted to keep public buildings closed, including the school. The School Committee was expected to endorse that decision on Friday afternoon after the county superintendents met.
"The NBSU administrative team is currently developing plans to coordinate efforts at all four individual schools to distribute materials to students and families in an effort to keep the children connected to their education during this two-week period," Franzoni said in a notice sent out to the school communities in Clarksburg, Florida, Monroe, Rowe and Savoy. "Principals will be communicating directly with their school staffs and families to finalize those plans for early next week."
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March 28 COVID-19 Briefs: Public Parks Push Passive Use
Group Games Banned in Public Parks
Communities including North Adams have been removing hoop rims to discourage youth congregating at public parks.
Reminder that playgrounds and sports facilities are closed during the state of emergency. Walking paths, fields and benches are still open but group activities and sports such as basketball are prohibited. Playground equipment is not being sanitized and should be used. Remember to maintain social distancing of 6 feet or more.
North Adams Administrative Officer Michael Canales said the hoop rims were removed from parks including Noel Field and UNO because young people were gathering there.
"Right now parks only for passive recreation," he said. "We removed the rims because even if they're passing a basketball between them, they're making contact through the ball. ... We want them to socially distance."
North Adams has installed large signs at the parks reminding residents of the rules but Canales acknowledged it has been difficult to enforce at the skate park.
The online tool developed by Buoy Health allows users to enter information about symptoms they may be feeling and directs them to resources that are available to them, like testing for the novel coronavirus, if it is recommended.
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The state has found itself bidding against other states as well as the federal government in trying to find materials, particularly personal protective equipment desperately needed by medical facilities and first-responders.
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