Pre-K-5 Students Now Participating in Full In-Person Learning, State-Supported COVID-19 Pooled Testing Initiative Announced
MEDWAY — Superintendent Armand Pires wishes to update the community regarding the district’s ongoing efforts to bring additional students back to full in-person learning.
Grade 5 students transitioned from the hybrid model to full in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 19. This follows the return of grade 4 students on Jan. 4 and Pre-K-3 students in December 2020. All Pre-K-5 students have now returned for a full five days of in-person learning per week.
As was previously noted, the pathway to a full in-person return for grades 6-12 is more complex and requires the district to address three primary barriers: physical distancing requirements, transportation and the need for regular COVID-19 testing.
Medway Public Schools adopted a 6-foot minimum physical distance in its reopening plans after reviewing reopening guidance provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and feedback from families and staff. This ensured that there would not be close contacts within the schools, with the exception of transportation. However, grades 6-12 are unable to return fully at this level of distancing.
Secondly, transportation guidelines outlined by DESE resulted in a decrease in bus capacity to about a third of the typical capacity. With this guidance, the district could transport only 325 students compared to 1,001 students as was done prior to the start of the pandemic, though approximately 66% of Medway parents and families indicated in a survey that they would need transportation for their child. If transportation needs exceed capacity the district has identified two possible options to mitigate the transportation barrier: “double runs” for some bus routes during which a bus will pick up 25 students and drop them off at school before going back to pick up an additional 25 students for the same school, or contracting with Holmes Transportation for additional buses.
Finally, the need for regular COVID-19 testing is a barrier for in-person learning for grades 6-12. Regular testing would provide the district with accurate information regarding the prevalence of COVID-19 within the schools and would allow the district to quickly and effectively identify and isolate positive cases. The information provided by regular testing would also assist the district in decision making regarding learning models moving forward and may help alleviate the challenges posed by physical distancing requirements.
On Jan. 8, the Baker-Polito Administration and DESE announced a COVID-19 pooled testing initiative for Massachusetts schools. Through the initiative, districts will work with providers to test students, faculty and staff once per week through a pooled testing system. The COVID-19 testing initiative is expected to be able to begin in February.
Pooled testing involves grouping multiple test samples to conduct a PCR test on the samples all at once. If a pooled test result is negative, then all individuals within that pool are presumed negative and may remain in school. If a pooled test result is positive, each test in the pool is then given an individual diagnostic test to identify the positive sample(s).
As part of the program, the state will support funding for COVID-19 testing for the first six weeks of the initiative. Following the first six weeks, the district will be able to use the state-negotiated contract to continue to purchase testing services. Being able to conduct testing through the state program rather than outside vendors significantly reduces the cost estimate for the district and is expected to result in a cost savings of approximately $225,000.
The district also began its own regular testing program for faculty and staff in December 2020.
“Throughout the year, our principals, teachers and staff have worked tirelessly toward the goal of getting our students back to school in person and without their hard work, moving our Pre-K-5 students to a fully in-person learning model would not have been possible,” Superintendent Pires said. “Additionally, we remain committed to addressing the barriers that complicate an in-person return for our middle and high school students. A regular testing program will be valuable as we continue working to bring additional students back in person and we are grateful for the state’s support of this important initiative.”
Additional information regarding student testing will be shared as it becomes available.