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Conte, Elementary Schools Prepare For Classroom Return

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield Public Schools, along with all public elementary schools, are getting a step closer to the "new normal" as full in-person education nears.

Earlier this month, Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley directed the return of all elementary students to resume a full, five-day in-person schedule by April 5 beginning at 8:45 a.m. and ending at 3:15 p.m.

"Some people are really excited to get back and have no fears and others are going to go back but we have fears," Conte Community School Principal Kerry Light said in a school council meeting on Monday.

Middle schools will follow, beginning complete in-person education around April 28 and a high school date has not yet been set.

Light assured the public that specific schedules are not definite yet and that further information will be coming out on March 30. She also outlined the safety protocols the school will be taking to keep staff, students, and in turn their families safe.

As of March 21 at 4 p.m., there had been no instances of school transmission of COVID-19 in Pittsfield Public Schools since Feb. 25.  As of March 18, the positivity rate is 0.99 percent and the cases per 100,000 is 7.2. The percent positivity rate is 1.9 percent, placing the city’s incidence rate in the yellow classification.

Light encouraged parents to listen to the Board of Health and school officials in regard to possible outbreaks instead of believing posts they see on social media.

"I know Conte is not alone, and I'm sure it's happening nationwide, social media, right. It's all about kind of what you believe," she said. "We had parents calling in saying do you have positive cases, it's all over social media, and when in fact we didn't. So knowing the chain of command when this happens, that it starts with the Board of Health, they will reach out to staff and family members that have been identified as being in close contact, then via our own district tracing protocols, the district will talk to the involved classroom staff and families, whether that's through a phone call, email and text."

If in-school transmission does occur, closure decisions will be made at the superintendent level whether one classroom, a grade level, or a school will be shut down.

Light encouraged families and students to continue to use the COVID-19 self-certification to monitor for symptoms, saying it is very important to be aware of how an individual is feeling before they enter the building.

She expressed gratitude for springtime temperatures as the school will be keeping windows open to allow for the flow of fresh air. All learning spaces also have purifiers and to enhance the window opening and the HVAC system, custodial staff are doing carbon dioxide ratings that are updated every six weeks.

The school is adopting a new surface cleaner and sanitizer solution that is said to "make the dwell time much less" for the virus and staff are encouraged to wear KN95 masks. Students are being recommended to double mask, though it is not a requirement.

"In regards to distancing, obviously, wherever 6 feet is possible we're going to do, but they did do research, and it has been decided that the data supports three feet of physical distance within the classrooms," Light said. "And for lunch and recess, obviously, it will be 6 feet."

With the return to full in-person learning, elementary schools have a lot to consider such as lunchtimes, recess, and specialist classes. Light wants to utilize the warmer weather to keep students safe and in a happier learning environment.

"My goal is is to push students outside as much as possible," she said. "I'll be transparent, they have been ordering tents, they have been ordering picnic tables, so as much as possible when there's no inclement weather, that will be encouraged."

All students enrolled in the Pittsfield Public Virtual Academy will continue the enrollment for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. In some grades, Conte has a waitlist for all year.  

The Pittsfield Public School district is currently in discussions with the United Educators of Pittsfield in order to provide livestreaming classroom education for the families who do not feel comfortable sending their child back to a full day learning plan. Light explained this option would also be available for students who were directed to quarantine by the Board of Health.

"Now, having said that, I have seen it go both ways," Light said. "I have seen students that are in the virtual that, you know have them all year and now want to return, we do have students that are trickling back to us, so that can happen. But it's important to note that with any transition like that, it could be four to six weeks because it really does depend on numbers and space and staff."

Tags: COVID-19,   school reopening,   

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