WILMINGTON — At the School Committee meeting last Wednesday night, Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand covered a virtual caregivers series, the CDC update, and quarantine in the Superintendent’s Report. Although grant updates were on the agenda, this item was passed over and not discussed.
Brand started by announcing a series of virtual information sessions for parents, guardians, and caregivers starting in January. These will cover topics like behavior planning at home, a guide to remote learning, and effective coping strategies. He said that he’s glad to be able to provide support to caregivers as they adapt to the many challenges of hybrid learning.
Getting back to this item later, David Ragsdale commented that this would be a great opportunity for the district to try and relieve the burden that parents and guardians may be feeling in helping their students learn.
“I’d like to see some academic support sessions as well,” Jenn Bryson added.
She said there would be value in blending social-emotional learning help with academic support in these sessions.
The second part of the report pertained to an update from the Director of the Center for Disease and Control, Robert Redfield. As detailed by the superintendent, the messaging said that the largest threat with COVID-19 transmission is not from schools.
“We have not seen school spread,” Brand said.
However, he clarified this should not be taken to mean that schools should move to full in-person learning.
He reminded everyone that Wilmington’s schools at least can’t bring all students back in person even at a three-foot distance between seats.
“Schools are safe, but I would argue, under the current conditions and protocols that we’re following.”
The understanding that the School Committee had of the memo was it meant that the protocols and procedures in place are working and should be continued in their current state.
Brand touched upon information given from the Department of Public Health via Director of Nursing Services Doreen Crowe concerning what to do and how long to quarantine depending on the type of contact you’ve had with a positive case.
“One of the growing areas of focus for us is not the positive cases but the ramifications of quarantining for our staff,” Brand said.
He explained that mostly community spread has led to approximately 30 staff in the district currently quarantining.
With regard to what percent of staff outages are able to be covered by the current level of substitutes, he said that they have an average of 50 percent coverage.
“There has been no shortage of efforts to hire substitutes, as we’re doing so almost daily,” he continued.
The issue, he said, is that the supply of candidates doesn’t meet the demand of necessary substitutes.
This led M. J. Byrnes to ask if there’s a certain level of staffing (or lack of coverage) that would lead the district to consider transitioning back to fully remote learning.
Brand answered, “When we don’t have enough bodies to supervise students in person.”
In the meantime, he said that he’s carefully watching the fill rates for open positions and numbers of staff in quarantine.
Going forward, Byrnes emphasized the importance of taking the best method to give students the most instruction time and the best education that can currently be provided. He gave an example of some teachers teaching remotely from home while their students are in the classroom, but even that requires a supervisor equivalent to a substitute teacher.
Jay Samaha wondered if a transition back to fully remote could be made by school due to concentrated staff quarantines.
“That would be the first course of action,” Brand said. “Everything is sort of wide open here for the ability for us to make decisions to respond.”
Ragsdale suggested going as granular as by grade level or one of the middle school houses if the quarantine numbers affect teachers in that way. Brand said that this would hopefully be only for two weeks while teachers quarantine.
Getting back to the numbers, Ragsdale asked if there are 30 teachers in quarantine, before Brand clarified that it’s a combination of staff across the district and not just teachers. He also shared that most of the contact that is requiring quarantines has been from outside of school.
They referenced the current seven positive cases in schools and said that a large number of students are currently quarantining, too, although they didn’t give an exact number.