Shrewsbury school administrators share school opening update

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury’s schools have been in session for one week and so far, according to school administration, the reopening has been a success.

In a report to the School Committee at its Sept. 23 meeting, Superintendent Dr. Joseph Sawyer said that the staff has gone above and beyond to make the opening of schools successful. Families have been supportive and students have diligently followed the safety guidelines.

“Between our staff, our families and our students, I could not be more proud as your superintendent,” he remarked.

Sawyer said they are taking a balanced approach, balancing the risks of reopening school against the positive statistics in Massachusetts. Shrewsbury remains in the green category according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health with fewer than four cases per 100,000.

Noelle Freeman, director of the department of school nursing, revealed that one student had tested positive prior to the opening of school. Also, one faculty member tested positive. Contact tracing took place and there were no close contacts within the schools identified.

The protocol for COVID-19 testing involves mandatory testing at the staff level if symptoms persist before they can return which is also highly recommended for students. If a test is negative, they can return within 24 hours after symptoms resolve. If results are positive, they must remain out for a minimum of 10 days with symptoms resolved before returning to school.

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Collins remarked that they need to remain willing to adapt as the school year progresses.

“If we have gaps, we will respond to those accordingly,” he noted. “Public buildings have taken on an enormous effort to have outside contractors inspect, audit and repair our HVAC system to ensure we have the proper air turn over in all of our occupied spaces.”

Collins acknowledged over 165 high school students that volunteered to help “de-densify” the buildings by removing furniture in advance of the schools’ reopening.

Karen Isaacson, director of extended learning, has been instrumental in leading this effort. She added that all items removed were labeled clearly before putting into storage so that all items can be put back where they belong. Additionally, desks and tables in the classrooms are labeled to identify which student sits where which will be extremely useful if they needed to do contact tracing.

“We are monitoring all operations and integration of new staffing and will adjust as we settle into a routine,” Collins stated.

Brian L’Heureux, director of information technology, informed the committee that the district was now supporting over 6,960 iPads and 1,100 computers. However, the volume of requests and a new WiFi setup procedure has been challenging.

Director of Human Resources Barbara Malone likened staffing to “puzzle pieces flying in the air,” particularly with staffing for in-class, hybrid, and full remote models. There have been 94 accommodation/leave requests heading into this school cycle.

Assistant superintendents Meg Belsito, Dr. Jane Lizotte and Amy Clouter each addressed their areas of expertise – student services, well-being, and curriculum – which were also going relatively smoothly.

Committee member Jason Palitsch commented: “It was very unlikely that reopening would be perfect and that there would be problems and hiccups but I had faith and trust in our leadership team…Consistently our staff at all levels handle things with grace in a very direct and successful manner.”

His thoughts were echoed by his colleagues.