Superintendent's Update

November 6, 2020

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Update to the WPS Community: WMS Moves to Hybrid Next Thursday and Friday

Good evening,


I hope today finds you well. Below please find my continued communication around our reopening of schools inviting our Watertown Middle Schools students to be in-person in school starting next week.


Phased Move to Hybrid at the Middle School

At this time, we will be continuing with our phasing in of students into the hybrid model at the middle school level beginning on Thursday, November 12th for our Cohort A students and Friday, November 13 for our Cohort B students. For those WMS students currently learning in the schools, your principal or teacher will share any schedule modifications as Bridge to Hybrid students return next week. In collaboration with the Watertown Health Department, we believe that it is safe to move to hybrid at this time for several reasons.


First and foremost, we are continuing to follow all of the recommended safety guidelines for schools:


  • Our staff have the necessary Personal Protective Equipment,

  • All of our classrooms have been configured to allow for six feet of distance between students and staff,

  • Each classroom has an air purifier and functioning windows,

  • Our HVAC systems were assessed by an independent consultant,

  • Our classrooms are cleaned each day and disinfected using misters, and

  • We have tents to allow for outside breaks even when the weather turns.


The safety of our students and staff members is central in our decision-making. We are proud that Watertown is one of the first districts in the Commonwealth to provide asymptomatic PCR COVID-19 testing for staff, with an 18-24 hour turnaround time. Additionally, we are close to finalizing details to provide voluntary student testing beginning as early as next week for our Watertown Middle School students, with testing for Watertown High School students and elementary students starting on November 30. We will provide families with all of the necessary information regarding universal asymptomatic testing for your child in the coming days.


The State collects data from all school districts with positive COVID-19 cases in their schools. Over the past two weeks, the total cases per day per 100,000 students is 5.63 across the state, and if you were to use the color-coded system, schools standing alone would be yellow. Additionally, at this time the state has reported little or no transmission in schools. With two cases of COVID-19 in our schools, Watertown has not had any transmission within our schools, in part due to the excellent contact tracing within our town and our schools, and the safety precautions we have put into place.


We have been in-person with 300+ students in specialized programs since September 22, and we have been in the hybrid model for our elementary students for two weeks. What we have learned from our in-person experiences is that our students are taking safety around the virus seriously: they are wearing their masks, keeping appropriate distance, and most importantly, they are happy to be back in school. We are confident that the health protocols in place, along with the immediate implementation of quarantines, and testing staff now and students in the future, are all reasons why we are preventing transmission within our schools.


Social Distancing and Mask Wearing

The Governor issued an order regarding masks earlier this week that took effect today. While the order does not apply to schools, we currently are following the practices outlined in the order. Students and staff are to wear masks at all times both inside and outside of the school buildings except during the brief mask and snack break. We will remind our students that they need to keep their masks on even outdoors except for at these two specific times. Please remind your children to wear their masks, even when they are gathering outdoors.


After seven months of living with this virus, COVID-fatigue may be setting in, making it easy to let down our guard. I’d like to ask everyone to please keep up your defenses and battle this virus "mask-on". Don’t forget to do the mandatory quick health screening before sending your children to school, keep your children home when they are not well, wear masks, and promote frequent hand washing and/or hand sanitizing. These simple steps will help us maintain safe in-person learning.


Quarantines

Even when we take all of the right precautions, sometimes we still get sick. This often equates to our students, teachers, and staff being placed in quarantine. We have heard from our community that there is confusion around the specifics of close contacts and when quarantine may be necessary, especially as families may be traveling over the Thanksgiving Break. To provide more clarity, we’ve created a WPS Quarantine Guide.


School Nutrition

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced an extension of free meals to all children. These meals will now be available for the entire 2020-21 school year. Please visit our School Nutrition Department’s Website for updated information about meal distribution.


Finally, for our middle school students and families, your principal will provide more detailed updates in their upcoming newsletters and communications, including start and dismissal times, entry and exit procedures, transportation and drop-off/pick-up procedures, and any other necessary protocols for moving to hybrid. As we continue to phase in our Bridge to Hybrid model, I would like to thank each of you for your resilience, flexibility and commitment to our strong WPS community. I hope you have a restful weekend.


With great appreciation,


Dede Galdston, Superintendent of Schools