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Drury High students return to the classroom full time next week.

North Adams Schools Fully Open Beginning Next Week

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — High school seniors will be returning to classrooms full time beginning next week on May 17, following the return of Grades 7 and 8 on April 28.
 
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in March voted to give the commissioner discretion to require in-classroom instruction to count as learning time. Most elementary children returned to classrooms April 5, although some students and schools were allowed to remain remote. 
 
"It looks as if about 75 percent of our seventh- and eighth-grade population returned for full in person, and we are currently processing the data for the high school return," Superintendent Barbara Malkas told the School Committee last week. An earlier survey to parents got very little response so a second was issued the week before. "We really needed to make sure we had a full complement of data."
 
She noted that the federal government was expected to approve use of the Pfizer vaccine to ages 12 and up; those 16 and older can already receive the shot. The more members of the school community are vaccinated, she said, the less disruption in learning since vaccinated people are not required to quarantine after contact with someone who has COVID-19.  
 
"I think that as we get into the summer, we'll start to see movement around further FDA approvals, down to 6, down to prior to entry to school," she said. "Just like we have seen with other other vaccination programs."
 
About 66 percent of the students in classrooms are participating in the pool testing, a state-funded program in which an entire classroom or group is tested for the virus in one sample. Only those who have a signed consent form are being tested weekly.
 
"Our total number of students [tested] is about half of the number of students who are attending for full in person," Malkas said. "We do have some remote students who are also participating in pool testing, and they come in in order to be tested."
 
The participation number ranges between schools with Grades 7 and 8 at Drury highest at 80 percent and Brayton the lowest at 42 percent. There are currently 828 students now attending full time.
 
Staff participating is less than half with only 236 of the 425 in-person employees giving consent. Malkas said this is likely lower as more staff are vaccinated or simply don't have the ability to be tested every week, although she did not think the number significant.
 
Committee member Ian Bergeron said he was disappointed in the low participation of staff in the program.
 
"I know that when I've spoken to folks who are doing the testing here, when [school nurse leader] Lauren [Gage]'s been here, she encourages everyone to continue testing even though they've been fully vaccinated because being fully vaccinated doesn't mean you can't get exposed," Malkas said.
 
She did not know how many staff members had been vaccinated because of medical privacy issues. They have been encouraged to voluntarily inform Gage, who has been doing the contact tracing.
 
"But I'm glad that we have implemented the pool testing program because I think it is providing us with valuable data to really assist us in making good on-time decisions with respect to identifying whether or not we have community spread," Malkas said.
 
The superintendent said the district is seeing less use of busing for those children who have returned to school, although data is still out for Grades 7 through 12.
 
"One trend that we have seen is that sometimes parents are, in fact, indicating that they want transportation for their child, and then not actually electing to use it," she said.
 
The buses have a capacity of 71 for larger vehicles and 29 for smaller, with three (young) children to a seat. The district has reduced that to allow for greater social distancing so the maximum capacity for a large bus with one child to a seat is 22.
 
According to the report presented by Thomas Simon, director of student support services, the most crowded bus is Brayton Yellow with 33 children. The next closest routes have 30, 29, 25, 24 and 23 for morning, afternoon or both. But those are not the actual number of students riding, said Simon.
 
"Those were the ones that had raised their hand wanting to ride, and we scheduled them in. It's not necessarily the number that are riding on a daily basis," he said. "At the moment, we don't have a solid means of regular attendance-taking on the buses."
 
Committee member Tara Jacobs asked if there was another way checking attendance or if it was too late to reconfigure. Simon said the district was not doing anything it shouldn't be and that balancing buses "would mean completely rerouting everything."
 
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education lifted capacity requirements in February as long as other protocols such as masking and open windows were in place.
 
Malkas said schoolchildren have been "really, really good" in mask compliance and the bus windows are always open. There also haven't been the behavioral problems as in the past because they want to go to school.
 
"I think it's important to reiterate that those three buses are still in compliance with the state guidance," she said. "And that it's not as widespread a problem, as some would would believe or want to have it be believed."

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Governor Pushing for Two-Month Sales Tax Holiday

BOSTON — The governor is proposing a two-month-long sales tax holiday this year as a way to support local economies and that would put an estimated $900 million back into residents' pockets. 
 
A sales tax holiday is already on the books for Aug. 14-16, a weekend of tax relief in August that's now a law in the state at this point. The Baker-Polito administration filed legislation on Wednesday to expand the sales tax holiday to the entire months of August and September.
 
"A two-month sales tax holiday will provide a boost to Massachusetts' taxpayers and Main Street economies as we continue to recover from COVID-19," said Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday in a statement. "Massachusetts' economic recovery is off to a good start, but it's crucial that the commonwealth takes action now to spur more economic activity in communities and support taxpayers. Thanks to stronger than expected tax revenues, the commonwealth has managed to grow the rainy day fund to a balance higher than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, and we can also afford to return these tax dollars to our residents and small businesses."
 
State tax revenues for fiscal 2021, he said, continues to "significantly exceed projections." Sales tax revenues to date are 14.9 percent above benchmark and revenues across the board means the state is poised to end the fiscal year with a significant surplus.
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