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Hoosac Valley Schools Preparing for April Return to Classrooms

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley Regional School District is planning to have students return to the schools fully on April 5.
Superintendent Aaron Dean told the School Committee on Monday that his team is working quickly toward shifting from hybrid learning to full in-person learning on April 5, as required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"There will be a lot of information coming fast so please look for it," Dean said. "Please give us some time and patience as we are trying to work towards this as fast as we can."
Dean he said he recently released a survey to get a sense of which families would prefer to remain fully remote. He said about 90 percent of families have responded and about 85 percent of those are ready to fully return to school.  
The majority of health precautions won't change and mask-wearing, hand sanitization, continued cleaning, opening windows, social distancing and other practices will still be the norm.
The plan is to space students out in classrooms at 3 feet, which is the recommendation of the World  Health Organization. Dean said the preferred 6 feet is not possible.  
"We determined that we could do about half of our students at 6 feet and two-thirds at 3 feet so we are going to have to do some slicing and dicing," Dean said.
He said there will be different challenges at different grade levels and noted the district will need time to tinker with schedules and cohort groups. He said bus schedules also have to be reconsidered. 
"We are building from scratch and there are a lot of logistics to consider," Dean said.
Dean said they have to prepare the actual building and move furniture as well as prepare the Chromebook fleet.
The devices have to be inventoried and assessed for damage. He said a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy may be implemented to help curb the demand on district-owned machines.
Lunch and breakfast schedules also need to be tweaked. Dean said to maintain 6 feet of distance while eating, some students will eat in the cafeteria while others are positioned in classrooms.
He said the district also still has to negotiate with the different bargaining units in the district. 
Also, before and after-school child care will be moved to Notre Dame in Adams, which the district has leased until the end of the year. 
Dean said he does not expect to jump right back into learning upon returning and noted there will be a lot of time spent on team building and emotionally supportive activities. 
"Kids are going to need support, families are going to need support, and we are going to have to find some ways to make that happen," he said. "Everyone has been through a lot and we aren't just going to flip a switch and have everything be alright."
Dean did say there are still questions about what the district would do if there was an outbreak in one of the buildings. He said he is awaiting guidance from the state.
He did touch on pool testing but said he did not think it was worth the cost to the district.
"It has the possibility to be more disruptive," Dean said. .I am just not sure how much we are going to get out of it." 
Pool testing means mixing samples from a group, such as a classroom, and testing for COVID-19 antigens. A negative test means the entire group is clear; a positive test means that each person in the pool would have to follow up with rapid result testing. A number of school districts, including North Adams, have been using the state pilot program.
Dean said the program is free until April 18. He said HVRSD is likely to miss this date and that means it will cost the district about $4,000 a week to run the program 
Two additional staff members would also have be hired to administrate the program.
He said the testing is really only effective if there is over 80 percent participation and the survey indicated that there would be about 60 percent participation.
Dean instead suggested the district rely on Binax rapid testing for symptomatic students and staff.
School Committee member Erin Milne questioned the effectiveness of this testing, noting that by the time the infected show symptoms they have already spread the virus. 
School Committee member Michael Henault agreed but added that the rapid testing may calm community concerns especially with the common cold on the rise. 
"The common cold is skyrocketing because kids haven't been exposed to it," he said. "Kids are getting colds, and I think it would be better for the community if we can say it is not COVID then a student or staff member can stay in school."

Tags: COVID-19,   HVRSD,   

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Cheshire to have Special Town Meeting March 6

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff

CHESHIRE, Mass. — A special town meeting is set for March 6 to vote to adopt the design for the $2.6 million Sand Mill Road Bridge project. 


The board approved the date at its meeting on Tuesday. The project, to be done by the state Department of Transportation, will replace the bridge and expand the width to include two 10-foot travel lanes and shoulders on both sides of the roadway. 


The project will begin construction in Spring of 2024, pending design approval at the town meeting. While there is no meeting warrant yet, Town Administrator Jennifer Morse said she is working on one with town counsel. 


"That was the date that was agreeable to the Town Clerk and the Moderator," she said. "... I have reached out to counsel to get the language I need for the bridge, and I have not heard yet. So as soon as I do, I'll start putting together the warrant." 


Other proposed improvements to the bridge include new roadway approaches, wingwall and retaining walls, guardrails and drainage improvements. MassDOT held a public hearing for the project in March last year.


The town meeting warrant will also include lead service line work to be performed by Engineering Firm Tighe & Bond. Morse said the town is mandated to do an inventory of service lines. 


In other business: 


  • The board unanimously voted to opt out of early voting for the annual town election. Voters will be able to vote via absentee ballots or on election day. 


The board plans to have the town clerk visit a future meeting to discuss the process for poll workers and how to get equal representation of Republicans and Democrats among them.  


"I've worked election recently people are jumping to actually come out and volunteer work elections," Morse said. "Especially after the last presidential elections we've had, people want to work polls."


  • The board approved the appointment of Recreation Committee members Tim Garner, Christopher Garner and Corey McGrath. 


  • The board approved the job descriptions for the Cemetery Laborer and Foreman positions.
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