Almost ‘business as usual’ as school reopening continues, Superintendent says

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Shrewsbury Public School logoBy Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

SHREWSBURY – It’s almost “business as usual” at the Shrewsbury Public Schools as grades K-4 navigate a successful in-person reopening following a year of COVID-19 remote and hybrid learning, Superintendent Joseph Sawyer told the School Committee April 7.

“Lots of smiles behind those masks, and lots of thumbs up from students feeling very good about being back together with their friends,” Sawyer said.

Accommodations have been made at schools that needed additional lunch spaces in particular. The Walter J. Paton School, for example, installed a tent for what Sawyer called “Al Fresco dining.”

“Kids were extremely cooperative and flexible in the way they are following all the different rules,” he added, noting social distancing and masking requirements.

He acknowledged, relevant to transportation that things had been running smoothly and on time. Increased traffic at schools was, further, not at the level that administrators had expected.

Pooled testing produces low positivity rate

With reopening continuing, Sawyer shared that pooled coronavirus testing is now occurring at all grade levels. Out of 9,828 tests since early February, two have come back with positive results. This works out to a 0.1 percent positivity rate.

“I hope it gives a lot of reassurance to folks that there is a very limited [case] number,” Sawyer said April 7. 

He went on, though, saying, “We are still looking to get the percentage of people tested to be higher, and we are going to continue to communicate with regards to that.”

He said that Massachusetts is in a strong position in terms of its case count in comparison to the rest of the country. Percentages of positive tests specifically sit below the five percent benchmark set forth by the John Hopkins University that the Shrewsbury Schools used in considering their reopening decisions.

As of April 7, a cumulative 371 Shrewsbury students have tested positive for COVID-19. Eighty staff also tested positive, making for a total of 451 cases in the district since the beginning of the school year. Shrewsbury High School continues to have the highest number of cases, particularly with eight suspected cases of in-school transmission identified.

Vaccine rollout continues

The state and the nation are reopening as long-awaited coronavirus vaccines begin to reach the arms of millions of citizens. 

In Shrewsbury, 48 percent of roughly 700 school staff members who responded to a recent survey earlier this month said they had received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Of those, roughly one-half had received their last shot more than 14 days before their survey, meaning they were fully vaccinated. 

Concerns remain about fall plans

Looking ahead to the fall semester, School Committee member Dale Magee inquired April 7 about the district’s plans for the fall in the event that three-foot social distancing policies remain in place, even as all students could be expected to be back in class full time.

Sawyer said that there are some classroom spaces that aren’t being utilized now. He expects that remote learning will not be an option and that spacing will not be in place. But the district is still thinking about the situation.

From here, in the short term, the Shrewsbury Schools began phasing grades five and six back into the classroom starting April 12. Grade 7-8 will begin Monday, April 26, as the high school will then reopen on Monday, May 3.