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 Classes resume Monday, Sept. 14
Classes resume Monday, Sept. 14
Kate Martin
Thursday, September 10, 2020

Message from Superintendent Andy Comstock

Thursday, Sept. 10

  

Dear District Family,

 

I would be a fool if, when presented with new information from DHSS, DESE and our local health department, I did not reevaluate our current plan to address COVID-19. 

Guidance presented by those organizations on Sept. 9 has indicated that a single measure of risk is not the most prudent path. Therefore, after consultation with local health officials, we are utilizing this guidance to more clearly illustrate our decisions moving forward.  

What this means for us is that District 32 classes on campus will resume Monday, Sept. 14. All students will resume their regular schedules on the Yellow Level of the district’s Roadmap to Reopening.

We are able to do this with the support of the Perry County Health Department. Director Sylvia Forester confirmed that the mitigating procedures in place within our facilities are rigorous enough to keep children and staff safe in the current conditions.

Because of this, the wider community spread we recently experienced did not have the impact on the district that we had anticipated when our plan was initially developed in July. It stood to reason that if COVID-19 was being easily transmitted in the community, having school would only contribute to that spread, and put our staff and students at an even greater risk. 

I know it hasn’t been easy for anyone, but I’m incredibly proud of our students, teachers and staff for making our schools so safe. 

 

While it may appear from the outside that we have used a sledgehammer to kill a gnat, I am confident that this temporary closure was the right thing to do.  

 

Our plan calls for 100% online instruction when certain conditions exist, including community spread of the COVID-19 virus when the source of infections is unknown, staffing issues due to illness, and student absences.

 

When I announced this move on Sept. 1, we had a positivity rate of 33% with an alarming number of youth (ages 0-20) being infected. We were the third highest in the state for positivity rate and eighth in the state for transmission rate. Additionally, about 10 percent of our staff were out of work as positives or close contacts. Nearly 30 percent of students were absent in our elementary school by Sept. 4 and our other buildings were trending in the same direction.

 

The combination of those factors closed our campus to in-seat learning, something we all hated to see happen. We announced our intention to return to classes by Sept. 21 in hopes that our community could help health officials get the spread under control, our quarantined staff would be well enough to return to their duties, and most students would be recovered or released and allowed to attend classes.

 

As I stated above, those things happened more quickly than we anticipated, allowing us to resume classes in one week instead of two. 

It confirms the importance of working with our local health department and adhering to CDC guidelines: use of masks, physically distancing by at least 6 feet, good hand hygiene, and staying home when sick.

 

This new guidance from DESE and DHSS also recommends using targeted closures to combat the spread of novel coronavirus in schools and our community. 

 

That guidance is helping us refine our plan for keeping as many students in school as possible during future outbreaks.

We will use three pillars in our decision making: Community spread as evidenced by the health department’s risk meter, health department recommendation for mitigation procedures, and district impact by building level (including staff and student absenteeism).  

 

So going forward, we will likely not see all buildings on campus affected in the same way. Instead, I will be recommending a very focused plan for any changes to the school day.

 

For instance, we may stop bus service on some routes when we don’t have enough drivers due to illness. Or, we may transition a single classroom, grade level, cohort (A or B group at middle or high school) to 100% online instruction when we have a large number of student absences. There may be times when only extracurriculars are canceled, and classes can go on.

 

When a teacher is a close contact to a positive case of COVID-19 but can still work from home, we may have to transition that teacher’s class to online instruction during the teacher’s self-isolation.

 

In the past, our District has always been a single entity for any school closures. The primary reason for this was that, on snow days or illness closures, older students can watch younger children while parents work.

 

It will take a greater level of adaptability for us all to move to this targeted way of fighting the pandemic. A service or class may be canceled with very little notice, but our goal will be to impact as few students and families as possible while keeping the majority of students in class on campus.

 

You’ll be receiving a parent survey soon, and I ask you to take the time to complete it. It will ask how this closure and different targeted closures may impact your family. It is also our annual communications survey. It will take under 10 minutes to complete.

 

We also have a Campus Conversation set for 6:30 pm Wednesday, Sept. 16 in the PHS Gym. We will specifically be asking for your feedback about online instruction and how we can make it better. Seating is limited to 250 people for safety, and masks will be required. You can reserve your seat at

 

This two-way communication will play a critical role as we refine our plan to keep COVID-19 from impacting our schools. I hope you lend your voice to our efforts.

 

Once we’ve gathered this input and refined our processes, we’ll share it with you.

 

We are all looking very forward to seeing “our” kids on Monday morning! 

 

Sincerely,

Andy Comstock

Superintendent