WILMINGTON — Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand announced last Wednesday night at the School Committee meeting that the district would be transitioning to remote until Christmas break. This would only apply to students in cohorts A and B for the Friday after the meeting and the past Monday and Tuesday, with Wednesdays usually remote and break starting the day after. High needs students were also included.
The recommendation for a period of remote learning came from Board of Health Director Shelly Newhouse and Nursing Director Doreen Crowe. Brand explained that the decision was made after careful consideration of the rising positives, quarantines, and positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in Wilmington.
Newhouse shared the current positivity rate of 7.6 percent and a trend of household spread. She also said that there were at the time over 200 positives and 700 residents in quarantine.
“We had such a large surge in cases resolving around Thanksgiving,” she said. “I think we’re going to see the same thing with Christmas next week through school vacation.”
She explained that she recommended a remote period with safety of schools, staff, students, and the community in mind.
Brand said on behalf of Crowe and Newhouse that their hope is that this will function like a two-week quarantine and give the community enough time for numbers to go down.
“The intent is to reopen schools on Monday, Jan. 4 for in-person learning in the hybrid model, unless something should transpire at the state level or [there be] a different concern at the local level.”
He went on to bring up two other issues that have been brought to his attention: whether a red community has to go remote after a certain number of weeks or if there’s any school spread.
“There’s no specific guideline or expectation at the state level that says communities in red for three weeks must shift to fully remote.”
He also maintained that there has been no in-school spread in the district — there’s only outside of school spread.
M. J. Byrnes asked the superintendent at what point in terms of students and staff who are positive or in quarantine that they’d transition to a longer period of remote learning. Brand answered that it would take a critical mass of staff or students in quarantine for this to be considered.
“Hopefully, collectively, everyone is going to be on board to do their part and follow safety protocols as we are being strongly urged to do,” he continued. “Idealistically that would put us at a place where we could have no staff in quarantine and no students in quarantine.”
He clarified this decision isn’t a change in course from the goal to continue in-person learning but a temporary adjustment.
Newhouse went on to talk about food insecurity, per the request of Jesse Fennelly, when an entire household has to quarantine before they get the chance to go shopping.
“Talking to families during tracing… sometimes it’s so quickly that they’re put into isolation and quarantines that they don’t have food or anyone around to help them,” she said.
She asked anyone willing to help to email her at her Board of Health email and she’ll keep them on the list for the future.
Another upcoming learning change coming to the district from the Superintendent’s Report regarded an amendment to the MA Board of Education’s requirement for structured learning time. This says that all districts in a hybrid model must offer at least 35 hours of live instruction over each 10-day period and give students the opportunity to interact with their teachers daily as of Jan. 19.
Brand explained that in order for Wilmington to conform to this change, they’re making three small working groups — one for elementary, one for middle school, and one for high school level — to create a new schedule before they seek re-negotiation and officially make changes. He also said the planning that WHS Principal Linda Peters had started was put on hold once this information came out.
Several committee members commented that the change would be laudable despite the short timeline for implementation. They questioned how deep the thinking could be for what’s best considering how quickly shifts need to be made.
Jenn Bryson said, “We don’t want to just check off boxes but think about what’s best for Wilmington students and children as we also meet regulations. We should be led by what we know about teaching and learning.”
Ragsdale suggested seeking a waiver for the implementation due date so as to increase the sophistication of the new schedules.
The other items that the superintendent included in his report covered a Massachusetts school wellness coaching program, a community-wide inclement weather/snow day announcement, updated information on quarantines and returning to work from DESE, and a press release from Middlesex League Athletics on the commitment to review and discuss feedback on the spectators ruling.