NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — About two-thirds of School Department personnel have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Superintendent Barbara Malkas, in updating the School Committee on the return to classrooms, said this covered all kindergarten to Grade 12 workers from teachers to cafeteria staff.
"A little bit more than two-thirds of our staff have had either their first dose of vaccine or have completed both doses of vaccine for Moderna or Pfizer, and many more were able to access the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine," she said Tuesday night.
The state set aside several days to prioritize education system workers for vaccinations prior to the return to full-time in-person learning that began for elementary schools on Monday. Grades 7 and 8 will return April 28; a date for high schools is not yet set.
"So what had changed in order to have this come about now, right, why now is it safer? Or what do we know now that is different than what we knew when the initial guidance came out last July?" Malkas said. "For one thing, there has been a lot more a lot more research done with regards to contagion and the rate of infection. And we know that mitigation strategies such as mask wearing physical distancing personal hygiene protocols and disinfection protocols, really decrease your spread in schools."
There is very little difference in the rates of exposure between 3 feet versus 6 feet social distancing when masks are used, she said, and surveillance testing has allowed the school system to "really be responsive to the data."
All children are staying 3 feet apart seat edge to seat edge in the classroom and when they are taking mask breaks or eating, they are 6 feet apart. Teachers have a 10-foot instructional space 6 feet from the front row of desks.
All other protocols — hand washing, moving between classrooms — remains the same as with the hybrid model with the exception of busing since more students are now on being transported at the same time.
"Bus windows are open, regardless of the conditions of the weather," Malkas said. "So students are asked to dress for the weather conditions as opposed to the calendar or an expectation for spring weather in New England. ...
"Every effort is maintained to accommodate physical distancing while riding the bus."
The superintendent said it took a lot of effort between Dufour bus company and April Bentley, administrative assistant in Student Support Services, to create bus routes that would maximize space as much as possible.
Committee member Tara Jacobs asked for clarification because based on a memo to parents last week, it sounded like children would be shoulder to shoulder.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is allowing two students per seat as long as masking and ventilation are being followed, Malkas said.
"So we have certain buses in the district particularly at the elementary level, those areas where we have a higher density of students, those buses in the past would have three students per seat, so they have been reduced to two students proceed in compliance with the expectations of DESE."
Director of Student Sevices Thomas Simon said the buses have a capacity of 71 but are running in the 25-student range. "The highest that we have is 33 on a bus, which would mean we've got a couple kids that are two to a seat."
Jacobs asked if they would be from the same family; Thomas said he did not know for sure but thought it likely.
"I know some bus drivers have been really diligent about assigned seats, so that the students are using the same seats," Malkas said. "And then they disinfect before and after each one."
The superintendent said there was an effort to make sure the district was "maintaining and promoting a healthy, safe and productive learning environment for our students and staff.
"So we wanted to make sure the protocols were in place to do that. And we wanted to have a focus on the social and emotional health, mental health of our students, that has been promoted as the reason for doing this now."
In other business, the committee approved the start of spring sports, with Jacobs voting no, subject to both the district's maintaining a hybrid or full in-person learning model and required testing for all participants.
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