WPS Covid 19 Updates

A Message from Dr. Gough

January 15, 2021


Dear WPS Community,


This week’s DPH COVID-19 Report indicated that the town of Walpole is rated red for its sixth week (7.04 % positivity rate). It is important to note that school plans are not directly tied to the color designation. The District’s focus is on cases and transmission within a building or buildings. The Board of Health will continue to work closely with the school department to advise on any future school building closures if necessary. At this time, there is no change to our schools or model. Please know, however, that this is a fluid situation, and we are prepared to change as warranted. As you know, we continue to implement important preventative practices including the CDC’s recommendation of physical distancing, mask-wearing, and good hand hygiene. You can view the WPS COVID Metrics on the district webpage which is updated at the end of each week.


Several families have asked what our plan is when our teachers are fully vaccinated. This is a fair and valid question that we have been discussing at the district level for the last several weeks. I am grateful for the collaborative relationship the school department has with the Walpole Board of Health and I am confident that as we have a better understanding of the vaccine rollout and timeline, we will understand the implication this has on our learning model. We will provide more information when we receive guidance from the state about the vaccine and its impact on health and safety in schools.


Walpole staff has done a tremendous amount of work to get us to where we are and they are to be commended. We were one of the first districts to open and (with the exception of preschool in September) we haven’t closed or moved away from our hybrid model. WPS has also seen an increase in synchronous instruction at both the middle and high schools and we continue to bring students back into our classrooms on a weekly basis. There is amazing work going on in our classrooms.


I appreciate your patience as our Leadership Team continues to work collaboratively with the Board of Health, School Committee, and Walpole Teacher’s Union. Please know, our decisions must be thoughtful and deliberate and I am fully committed to doing what is best for our education community. If you would like to view my full comments at last night’s School Committee Meeting, you can access them here (timestamp: 1:33-1:44).


New Quarantine Guidelines (1/09/21)

In December, the MA Department of Public Health (DPH) shortened their quarantine guidelines for close contacts from a 10-day quarantine with testing on day 8 to testing on day 5 with a 7-day quarantine. Since that time we have had a number of individuals initially identified as close contacts who have completed their 7-day quarantine and returned to school on day 8 subsequently develop symptoms and test positive. These individuals typically developed their symptoms between day 8 and day 11. These individuals were back at school and in close contact with our students and staff while contagious. Although the state has shortened the quarantine time based on the evidence that the majority of individuals who are close contacts will test positive by day 5, it is important to remember that once exposed to the virus an individual can develop symptoms up to day 14.


Currently, our community is experiencing a significant increase in the number of positive COVID cases. After consulting with the Walpole Public Health Department, the Walpole Public Schools will be reverting to the previous quarantine guidance issued by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. With this additional mitigating factor of the extra days of quarantine, we are hopeful of a decrease in the number of potential close contacts and the number of positive cases in our community.


Beginning January 10, 2021, the following quarantine guidelines will be in effect for all students and staff in the Walpole Public Schools:

  • All individuals who are identified as close contacts must quarantine for at least 14 days from the date of the last exposure or at least 10 days, provided all of the following are satisfied:

    • The individual has not had any symptoms;

    • The individual has been tested on day 8 of their quarantine or later using a molecular diagnostic test (also known as a PCR) to detect the presence of the virus:

    • The individual has received confirmation of a negative test result; and

    • The individual continues to monitor for symptoms for the full fourteen days. If the individual develops symptoms they must quarantine again and be re-tested for the COVID virus.

Survey

In the coming days, families will receive a survey through the X2 portal. This survey will provide us with valuable feedback about the opening of schools, the health and safety of our students, and important information about student learning. We are committed to being reflective as we progress through this process. Please note this survey is similar to the one that was given in October. At the start of the survey, you will be asked if you took the October survey. This is important because this will help us with benchmarking and comparing these results to those in October.


Flu Vaccine (new update 1/15/21)

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is removing the requirement for flu vaccination for attendance in childcare/preschool, primary, secondary and postsecondary education. Preliminary data show that this has been a mild flu season to date, presumably as people have received their seasonal flu vaccine and have been adhering to mask-wearing and social distancing due to COVID-19.DPH continues to strongly recommend that everyone age six months and older receive their seasonal flu vaccine each year.


Middle School Building Project

My last update stated that the Walpole School Building Committee (WSBC) voted to support a consolidated middle school. Since then, WBSC has been evaluating the conceptual design options for a consolidated middle school. The WSBC will evaluate several options: a new building on the Bird site, addition/renovation to the existing BMS building, and one general new building concept for the Johnson site. The project must narrow the options to one “preferred solution” and submit it to the MSBA for review and approval by the end of February 2021. A Community Forum will be held Wednesday, January 20th @ 7:00 p.m. For further information, please visit the Project’s website at www.walpole.k12.ma.us to view FAQs, presentations, monthly reports, project summary, and videos. To find out more information on the MSBA process, please visit the MSbvideos. To find out more information on the MSBA process, please visit the MSBA website at www.masschoolbuilding.org. Have a question or comment? Email us at middleschoolproject@walpole.k12.ma.us


Stay healthy and safe,


Bridget A. Gough, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

Big picture

A Message from Dr. Gough

December 11, 2020


Dear WPS Community,


This week’s DPH COVID-19 Report indicated that the town of Walpole is rated red. Under the new metrics, this designation indicates that over the last 14 days Walpole has exceeded 10 cases per 100,000 residents and greater than a 5% positivity rate (5.49). It is important to note that school plans are not directly tied to the color designation. As outlined in the November DESE Updates to Guidance on Interpreting DPH COVID-19 Health Metrics, "Districts are expected to prioritize in-person learning across all color-coded categories, unless there is suspected in-school transmission, in accordance with DESE's Guidance on Responding to COVID-19 Scenarios." Schools’ focus is on cases and transmission within a building or buildings. The Board of Health will continue to work closely with the school department to advise on any future school building closures if necessary. At this time, there is no change to our schools and school model. Please know, however, that this is a fluid situation, and we are prepared to change as warranted. As you know, we continue to implement important preventative practices including the CDC’s recommendation of physical distancing, mask-wearing, and good hand hygiene. You can view the WPS COVID Metrics on the district webpage, which is updated at the end of each week.


Travel Reminder

With the December break approaching, please be reminded of Governor Baker's Travel Order. All visitors entering Massachusetts are required to produce a negative COVID-19 test result that has been administered up to 72 hours prior to arrival in Massachusetts. If for some reason, you are unable to be tested prior to leaving the higher-risk state, you must arrange to be tested within 24 hours of your return to Massachusetts. Please turn in any negative test results to your building’s School Nurse. While waiting for test results, your child must remain at home under quarantine and not return to school until a negative test can be produced or quarantine has been completed.


New Quarantine Regulations (12/7/20):

MDPH has aligned its quarantine recommendations with those issued last week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The new WPS protocol, which is aligned with the Walpole Board of Health is as follows:

  • Release on Day 8 IF:

    • A PCR test taken on Day 5 or later is negative; AND

    • The individual has not experienced any symptoms up to that point; AND

    • The individual conducts active monitoring through day 14

  • Release on Day 11 IF:

    • The individual has not experienced any symptoms up to that point; AND

    • The individual conducts active monitoring through day 14

    • No test is necessary under this option

  • Release on Day 15 IF:

    • The individual has experienced ANY symptoms during the quarantine period EVEN if they have a negative COVD-19 test; OR The individual indicates they are unwilling or unable to conduct active monitoring.

The guidance for a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 has not changed, which means the individual is to remain in self-isolation for 10 days. Public activities may resume after the 10 days as long as the individual has been fever-free for 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medications (like Tylenol) and has experienced significant improvement in other symptoms, such as a cough. Please note that the guidance is fluid and is subject to change. Any changes will be communicated.


Increasing Engagement

We know that there have been several news stories across the country about remote learning, including a dramatic increase in failing grades. While we do not see a dramatic increase in failing grades across the district, we do recognize that many students struggle with remote learning. We continue our efforts to safely bring back as many students as capacity allows, and the following points include additional steps we have taken to increase engagement during hybrid learning:

  • Grade 1 will begin 4 day week on Monday 12/14 (with 6 feet of social distancing)

  • A transition coach was hired at WHS to increase face-to-face time with some of our at-risk students to promote engagement and accountability. The middle schools will be doing the same in the coming weeks.

  • Starting Monday 12/14, all middle school students should anticipate an increase in synchronous instruction on their remote learning days. Teachers will be working more closely with students who are learning from home, and they will be actively engaged and present in the virtual classroom for the entire length of the period/instructional block. This change was a result of parent feedback, classroom observations, and the incredible commitment of our teachers.


Flu shot reminder

Per the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Flu Vaccine is now REQUIRED for ALL Massachusetts school students enrolled in childcare, pre-school, K-12, and post-secondary Institutions. The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the Covid-19 pandemic. Students will be expected to have received the flu vaccine by December 31, 2020, for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. This will be a requirement to enter school in January. Please Note: Elementary and secondary students in districts and schools that are using a remote education model ARE NOT EXEMPT. Please send documentation of your child’s flu vaccine or medical/religious exemption to the Health Office.


Snow Days

The Commissioner of Education has indicated that he will allow us to call a district-wide “remote learning day” instead of canceling school due to inclement weather, power outages, or other unforeseen natural events. However, we do need to be aware that if there are power outages or if staff are unable to provide synchronous remote instruction from home, the snow day may just be that - a snow day and will be made up at the end of the year. Right now, the last day for students, if we use five snow days, is Tuesday, June 22nd.


Middle School Building Project

Finally, I appreciate all of the feedback we received regarding the middle school consolidation. Since starting this journey with the submission of our first Statement of Interest in 2016, we were invited into the MSBA Eligibility Period in 2017, accepted into the Feasibility Phase in October 2019, and last month, submitted the Preliminary Design Program. Working with Compass (Owner’s Project Manager) and Tappe Architect Firm (Designer), this deliverable consisted of the educational program, initial space summary, evaluation of existing conditions and facilities, site development requirements, and preliminary evaluation of scenarios, and enrollment exploration. After several School Committee meetings, School Building Committee meetings, and Community Forums, the School Committee voted to support a consolidated middle school.


The Walpole School Building Committee (WSBC) will now begin to evaluate the conceptual design options for a consolidated middle school. The WSBC will evaluate several options: a new building on the Bird site, addition/renovation to the existing BMS building, and one general new building concept for the Johnson site. The project must narrow the options to one “preferred solution” and submit it to the MSBA for review and approval by the end of February 2021. A future Community Forum will be held in January. For further information, please visit the Project’s website at www.walpole.k12.ma.us to view FAQs, presentations, monthly reports, project summary, and videos. To find out more information on the MSBA process, please visit the MSbvideos. To find out more information on the MSBA process, please visit the MSBA website at www.masschoolbuilding.org. Have a question or comment? Email us at middleschoolproject@walpole.k12.ma.us


Stay healthy and safe,


Bridget A. Gough, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools

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