Amesbury Public Schools Update

From the Office of the Superintendent - October 1, 2021

Dear Amesbury Public School Families!

As I walk through classrooms throughout the district, I am thrilled to see so many students actively engaged in the learning process. As a former high school teacher and administrator, it is a very special experience for me to watch the teaching and learning that happens with the really young students. This week, I spent some time in a kindergarten classroom. For me, it was awesome to see how important routines are in a kindergarten class but to also watch as those routines were being developed. In this classroom, as the students entered, they went and hung up their jackets, put their bags away, and waited in line to wash their hands prior to sitting at their desks. From there, each student had their name printed on a laminated piece of paper that had a space for them to practice writing their own name. The intensity and focus of these students as they practiced writing their names was truly impressive.


Similarly, it is great to see some traditional school events return this year. At the high school today, they had the annual “Welcome Back Rally”. Each grade level was “assigned” a color to wear to show the spirit and unity of their class. For our freshmen and sophomores, this will be their first "real" rally, and they too, will need to learn the routines and expectations associated with this cultural event.


Reconnecting with the school community, including its traditions, events, and opportunities is so important as we attempt to return to a more normal school experience. Please encourage your child(ren) to become involved in school activities. In a recent S’more newsletter, AMS Principal, Mr. Haas included a long list of co-curricular activities that have been reinstated at the middle school. In fact, some level of co-curricular activities have been restored in each building. Please check with the school to find out what options are available. A fifty dollar activity fee is required to participate; however, that fifty dollars provides a student with access to as many activities as they want. Most importantly, we do not want the cost of participating in student activities to prevent a student from joining, so please reach out to the administration at your child’s school if there is a financial hardship. We want students to be active participants in their school experience!


As always, thank you for your support and please reach out with any questions. Have a happy and safe weekend!


Sincerely,


Elizabeth McAndrews

Superintendent

New DESE Information

DESE Mask Update

As you know, on August 24, 2021, Commissioner Riley was granted the authority to "require masks for public school students (age 5 and above) and staff in all grades through at least October 1, 2021."


On September 27, 2021, Commissioner Riley and DESE released an update on this masking policy for schools. "The mask requirement will be in place until at least November 1, 2021. The Commissioner will revisit the requirement in the near future to revise it as warranted by public health data."


To clarify, masks will continue to be required in all Amesbury Public Schools and on buses. The exceptions to wearing masks continue to be when outside, during mask breaks, or while eating. I sincerely appreciate the support that we have received from both students and families in adhering to this expectation.


Here is a link to this document: https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop.html

DESE Policy on Vaccination Rate Threshold

On September 27, DESE also released additional information that provides a way to remove masking in schools. Yes, September 27, was a very busy day for DESE!


The new information includes:


"As of October 15, 2021, if a school demonstrates a vaccination rate of 80 percent or more of all students and staff in the school through an attestation form submitted to DESE, then vaccinated individuals in that school would no longer be subject to the mask requirement. Whether or not a school or district avails themselves of the 80 percent vaccination off ramp is a local decision to be made by school and district leaders in consultation with local health officials. In alignment with statewide guidance, unvaccinated students and staff would be required to continue wearing masks. The Department will continue to work with medical advisers to explore other metrics to inform further off ramps for masks."


There is a lot of information in that paragraph. First, the decision to use the 80% vaccination rate to allow fully vaccinated students and staff to not wear masks in school is a LOCAL decision. That means that the School Committee will have the final decision as to whether we will avail ourselves of this opportunity. During Monday's School Committee meeting, during my COVID-19/Masking update, we will begin this conversation.


Second, it will require the collection of some official form of proof of vaccination from both students and staff. I know that I had sent out a survey a few weeks ago but I will need a more official attestation of vaccination than a survey response. My staff and I are working on a method of collection of that information.


Finally, it is obvious that the only two schools in which 80% fully vaccinated status is even possible at this time are Amesbury High School and Amesbury Innovation High School. However, at this time, after consultation with our lead nurse, we will focus our collection of information on AHS.


Here is a link to this document: https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/on-desktop.html


As I stated above, this in preparation for the possibility of mask removal with an 80% fully vaccinated rate. I am gathering this information to provide data to the School Committee which inform both my recommendation and their decision. Stay tuned for instructions for submitting this information.

COVID Information

Stay Home if you are Sick

One of the most important things to remember is that if you are sick, you should stay home. Our nurses are reaching out to triage our sick calls to assist in determining if a student or staff member should be tested for COVID. As always, you may reach out to your doctor for further clarification.

Testing Consent

If you have not done so already, please use this link to provide consent for your child(ren) to be tested in school as part of our Symptomatic Testing or our Test and Stay Program.


link: https://www.cic-health.com/consent/ma


Thank you for your assistance with this. Having this in advance truly helps with the efficiency of the process.

Close Contacts

As we begin to have students and staff who test positive for COVID, we will contact all close contacts (anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period). As part of that conversation, we will determine if each individual close contact meets one or more of the exemption criteria (which means that they simply monitor for symptoms) or if that close contact needs to take additional steps such as entering the "Test and Stay" protocol or quarantining.

Symptomatic Testing and Test and Stay

Symptomatic testing is used when a student is showing minor symptoms of COVID-19 during school; students should NOT come to school if they are feeling sick while at home. Some symptoms of the virus look identical to other illnesses like the common cold of flu, and this test tells us whether a symptomatic student has COVID-19 or not. This is a rapid test, and we receive the results of the test within 15 minutes. If a student has minimal symptoms and tests negative, they can remain in school.


Test and stay allows students who have had close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 while at school to stay in school if the student is not showing symptoms. Instead of needing to quarantine and miss school, these students will take a daily rapid test while they remain in school as long as they are NOT symptomatic. Students participate in test and stay for at least 7 days after they have been exposed.

Exemptions

DESE and DPH have identified EXEMPTIONS to both testing and quarantine which are outlined here:


1. Asymptomatic, FULLY VACCINATED close contacts

2. Classroom close contacts - provided that both individuals were masked and spaced at least 3' apart.

3. Bus close contacts - provided that masks were worn and windows were open

4. Close contacts who have had COVID-19 within the last 90 days

COVID Positive Case Count for DESE

This year, DESE is again requiring schools to share the number of student and staff positive cases of COVID-19. Since the week of September 13th, every school in Massachusetts is expected to submit the number of positive cases for their district each week. For the last two weeks we have reported the following number of positive cases:


September 16 - 22: 3


September 23 - 29: 1


In the case that you would like to see this data yourself, please follow this link: https://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/positive-cases/default.html#weekly-report


This information is reported every Wednesday and uploaded to the DESE site listed above at some time on Thursday afternoon or evening.

What's Happening in the Schools?

Free Breakfast and Lunch Continue!

Students in all grades are eligible for free breakfast and lunch through the end of the school year. The greater the number of students who participate, the greater the amount of money our district is reimbursed. Please take advantage of this awesome opportunity and help the district in the process!

Mascot Committee Update

Over the past several months, School Committee policy CN, has guided the work that this Committee has done. The policy states that the Committee is supposed to provide its recommendation to the Superintendent within a 3 month period of time. Within that time frame, it was requested of me that I extend that time by one month to allow the Committee to administer a survey during a time where students were in school which would ensure that all students had access to a device and the time to participate. The survey would also be able to be administered at a time where it was more likely that others were not vacationing. I granted that extension and the Committee's survey ran from Thursday, September 23rd through Wednesday, September 29th at 6pm. The Committee will meet this Monday, October 4th at 7pm in the Bank Room at AHS to begin working through those survey results. When the Committee provides its recommendation to me, no later than October 16th, that recommendation will be based on several things, including, but not limited to research that they have conducted, speakers to whom they have listened, and input from the surveys. Once I receive their recommendation, I will review the information that they have provided and will make a recommendation to the School Committee. The School Committee will then process the information will ultimately render a decision about the school identifier.

Sgt. Jordan Shay Memorial Lower Elementary School

The work on the new school continues to progress quite rapidly. Excavation and the building of the foundation are well underway. At this time, it is expected that the steel for the structure of the school will arrive at the end of October or the first week in November. Then we will really see the school come to life!

Thank you very much for reading this newsletter!