2020-11-15 Superintendent Nease Message

 

November 15, 2020

Dear HUUSD Community Members-

As we move into the week prior to Thanksgiving break, we are facing significant increases in the virus across the state and especially in Washington County. HUMS/HUHS was moved into totally remote learning for the remainder of last week after being notified we had an adult test positive. All the other 6 campuses remained unchanged. On Monday, November 16th HUMS/HUHS will return to its 2-1-2 model, or at least that is the decision at the time of this writing. However, Moretown Elementary will be moving totally remote Monday through Wednesday due to lack of staffing. The overall message I have for our community is to stay tuned regularly. The data changes almost hour to hour creating new decisions every step of the way. 

The schools within the district will reflect the overall community. It is true that we are experiencing increased spread in Washington County, but our six towns have far less. Each school in the district can vary quite a bit from each other. Our data seems to fluctuate by the minute now, because members of our community are getting called by contact tracers notifying them that they are a close contact, which in turns affects their household and then ultimately the school. 

At the end of last week our already small substitute list shrunk even further as concerns about the virus rose. More staff and students are absent for a variety of reasons including going into quarantine, pending test results, or experiencing symptoms. 

Governor Scott’s press conference on Friday brought forth additional restrictions on gatherings, travel, and quarantine bringing the state closer to the spring lockdown that we experienced. The last three days brought some of the highest positive cases the state has seen with 72, 116 and 84 on Friday within 17 outbreaks in 80 public locations. The Governor made it clear that the state is heading in the wrong direction. Schools are expected to remain open and follow the guidance carefully.

The hardest element of all of this for our school staff is the constant uncertainty, never knowing day to day which learning model they will be teaching in due to the many factors outside of our control. We are committed to keeping our campuses open for in person instruction. However, safety will always come first and will not be compromised. This may require us all to pivot quickly. I understand how frustrating and disappointing these constantly changing decisions are for staff and families. 

Here is information about the last several weeks:

Total Number of Student and Staff In Person Absences Weeks 5-10 (Oct 5-Nov 14)

Last week, one positive adult test at Harwood resulted in approximately 40 close contacts at school alone. After contact tracing, 4 staff and 6 students were asked to quarantine. The HUUSD had 18 pending test results last week. As of this writing, no other positive results have been reported although all results are not back. It can take several days to schedule testing and several days to get results - it really varies. Please remember that earlier in the year with two positive cases at CBMS none of the other 14 tests came back positive.

Here are a number of updates:

Our HUUSD admin team will continue to make day to day decisions by strict adherence to the state guidance. Superintendents cannot make decisions that are less stringent than the guidance, but we can implement more restrictive or enhanced rules for operating our districts. After collaboration with our admin team and my regional and state colleagues, I  may do so to keep our students and community as safe as possible.   

I will close schools for in person instruction by classrooms, teams, whole buildings or the entire district based on two main factors 1) our own district data on the number of staff and students testing positive and/or in quarantine, or out sick with symptoms; and 2) the inability to adequately staff a building. 

Beginning Monday, November 16th, our district will extend the stay home protocol under quarantine to include all members of a household that attend our schools, students and staff, not just the single close contact or positive case identified by the Vermont Department of Health. Here is an example of our district implementing a more stringent standard than the VDH.

This means that If a household member is asked to quarantine by the VDH or a healthcare provider, for any reason, we are asking that all members of the household follow the same guidance and quarantine as well as it relates to school. This means that siblings will be expected to quarantine. This applies to in-person learning, extracurricular activities and work at school. This decision was approved with unanimous consent by the HUUSD admin team and also will be implemented by other superintendents in our county. 

Late last week, our Vermont public schools received two large unexpected directives from the Agency of Education that are creating quite a bit of concern across the state 1) Each school district will now be responsible for doing its own contact tracing of all close contacts when any member of the school community tests positive. VDH will only call the positive case(s), and 2) Each school district is responsible for implementing its own all staff surveillance testing model. Both of these initiatives will take considerable logistical planning and assignment of school staff.

At my Winooski Regional Superintendents (Washington, Lamoille, abd Orange Counties) meeting last Friday we unanimously agreed that:

  1. We will reassess postponement of the start of athletic practices as a region in one week, on 11/20/2020.  This was approved with unanimous consent.

  2. Any positive case in a student or staff member will result in a shift to remote learning for some period of time.

  3. We will produce a community statement due to the Vermont Department of Health’s  inability to complete contact tracing in our schools as a result of the high case count in the state, therefore assigning that task to school administrators. We simply don't have the capacity to do it.  We are highly concerned about this lack of capacity as this compromises our ability to keep schools safe. Moving forward, this will have an impact on the region’s ability to remain open for in-person learning.  If we are fully remote, we will narrow the scope of contact tracing needs and have increased staff capacity to assist with tracing.  We will also reevaluate this on 11/20/2020.  

The HUUSD staff will participate in the Vermont K-12 Surveillance Testing in Schools this Thursday, Nov. 19. Below is the letter to staff from our COVID Coordinator.

Dear HUUSD Staff,

Please see, below, linked information from Vermont Secretary of Education Dr. French regarding the COVID19 Surveillance testing being conducted  in schools next week. HUUSD will be offering a window of mobile testing at each school on Thursday,  November 19. Additional information about registration, times and frequently asked questions will be sent to staff as soon as this information becomes available from the state.

Surveillance testing is for any teachers and staff who volunteer to take a COVID-19 test. Surveillance testing does NOT mean that teachers and staff are at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and testing does not negate the prevention and mitigation strategies that schools have implemented.  Staff and students will continue to practice mask wearing, hand hygiene, physical distancing and staying home when sick, even if there are no positive tests.  This testing strategy does not mean that it is safe to travel for non-essential reasons or let down your guard in strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.   The testing is for asymptomatic teachers and staff only. You will not need to quarantine after taking the test.  If you are symptomatic, we recommend that you follow up with your provider for further guidance and recommendations for testing.  

Letter introducing the surveillance testing program

One-page explanation of the testing procedure 

Respectfully,  

Allison Conyers,  HUUSD Covid19 Coordinator

The HUUSD will be moving to online learning on snow/emergency days for the remainder of this year to the greatest extent possible with a highly flexible schedule for students based on our beginning of the year first opening model of 1-4. This will allow us to end the year much earlier in June, which we believe we all will desperately need! Below is the message sent to HUUSD staff:

  • These emergency days and their short notice are not really any different than being called the night before about a COVID closure. Every effort will be made to make the call the night before if possible.

  • We started out slow and built a 1-4 model to serve us throughout the year. That same 1-4 model can be used where appropriate on these days. A completely new plan/student schedule may not be necessary.

  • The admin team developed a guidepost of 2 hours of synchronous learning inclusive of morning meeting or TA, with attendance taken and the remainder of the day asynchronous. You should use the same guidelines established by the Return to Learn Teams at the start of the year as to how many hours students need to be engaged in learning for those days. 

  • All Wednesdays always follow the same remote schedule.

  • 7-12 will need to work on alignment for groups A and B at the building level depending on the days of the week the emergency days are called.

  • As far as we can predict, we will likely return to Step I (totally remote by the state) for several of the winter months due to the virus and calling snow/weather days will be a non-issue.

  • Power outages cannot be planned for. As long as 50.5% of the student body is marked as in attendance we can count the day. If the power outage is widespread and affects nearly everyone, then we will lose that day and need to make it up in June.

  • If for any reason we cannot successfully complete a remote day as a building or district on any day regularly scheduled on the school calendar, the day will need to be made up in June because all schools are now operating at a minimum 170 days by legislative order. This could mean that some of our schools will need to be open and end the year on a different day than the others. 

  • Students should take home at the end of each day all materials needed to engage in remote learning. These days can be called due to weather, staffing shortages, or state announcements at the last minute.

In closing, I would share with our community that our administrators and those throughout the state are having difficulty digesting how it is that schools remain open at Step III given the current data surpassing the concerns of last spring, while at the same time, EVERY business, nonprofit and government agency was told to return to working from home as much as possible. Gatherings of anyone outside your household are suspended. The guidance went so far as to say pods are not allowed, which we don’t quite understand given childcare operations.  And all youth and adult recreation is suspended, except school sports. Most superintendents and principals throughout the state have shared serious objections about the decision not to delay indoor winter athletics until spring, especially basketball. 

Each day we move forward together listening, learning, and problem solving, doing our very best to keep everyone safe and our schools open. Life in general is so very unpredictable now filled with the stress of uncertainty. We will continue to go forward together supporting each other along the way. Please feel free to reach out anytime - don’t worry about my inbox! We are regularly updating our website as is the Vermont Department of Health.

Our staff knows that humor is good medicine for sure. A word that has become common among school personnel since the pandemic is PIVOT. It makes us all laugh and cry. I imagine families feel about the same. Here is a little laugh we enjoyed last week that I thought might be worth sharing. HERE

With warm regards,

Superintendent  Nease

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