CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The four small schools in the North Berkshire School Union will be back in class on Jan. 4, even as some larger school districts are planning a remote learning quarantine for the first weeks of the new year.
"We haven't had any positive cases for anybody that works or goes to school in our district, so we're very happy with that," said Superintendent John Franzoni on Wednesday. "We've got a safety protocol we put in place that has been successful and we're looking forward to welcoming everybody back on Monday for in-person learning ... we're obviously very pleased with the fact we can educate our kids in person."
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had reported in its most recent communication that there are only 20 school districts across the state operating as full-day models for in person learning, he said, and that three of the districts are part of the school union.
Gabriel Abbott Memorial School in the town of Florida, Emma Miller School in Savoy and Rowe Elementary have been operating with full day, in-person learning since the start of the school year on Sept. 8. Clarksburg Elementary, the largest school in the union serving kindergarten through Grade 8, has been hybrid for Grades 6 to 8 because of space restrictions.
Kindergarten through Grade 5 have been in school since the beginning with the middle school grades taking turns attending half days in person and the other half in synchronous remote learning. The school officials had been searching for more space to bring all the students back to the classroom and had approached the town about using the closed Community Center, but it did not seem workable.
Franzoni said the school's plan has been successful so far in at least having the majority children in class. The gym, for example, is being used for Grade 5 because of its size
"Grade 5 is in the gymnasium because there are 23 students, we can spread them out in there but we have a couple other 20-plus student classes in Grade 6 and Grade 8 so we just can't fit them according to how we have to space the desks out," he said. "We want to make sure we follow the safety protocols so they can continue to go to school."
The superintendent said there may be an opportunity next year when the weather gets warmer to bring more of the students back to the school.
He said there have been isolations because of possible exposure to the novel coronavirus but the small towns don't have as many points of transmission as the larger communities, such as restaurants and other high-volume areas.
"I think you know the people in town have also really done a good job," Franzoni said. "We've talked about the traveling right from the start of the year ... traveling is the way, I think you know, that brings it into the area, so we've been emphasizing that to our families to now please try to limit your travel."
Families and staff have been strongly encouraged to isolate and participate by remote if they have traveled or had possible exposure.
"Even if they were negative for close exposure or travel, we do the 14-day quarantine from school," Franzoni said. "So that's the maximum protection and we're taking those steps to try to keep the virus out of our school."
Clarksburg has had 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including the first recorded in Berkshire County; as of Dec. 24, it had one confirmed case in a two-week period. Florida and Savoy have had fewer than five cases and Rowe five exactly; none of those towns had had a positive case in the two weeks before Christmas.
North Adams will not return to in-person learning until Jan. 19, as a buffer against possible COVID-19 exposures over the holidays. McCann Technical will reopen Jan. 4 for hybrid learning.
Franzoni said school officials feel confident that the NBSU schools continue to be safe places for the students and staff because of the updated safety guidelines in place.
"The NBSU districts are fully committed to educating the students in person under the current conditions to keep everyone in the building safe because that's what is best for the students," he said.
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