MEDWAY — Superintendent Armand Pires would like to provide the community with an update regarding the district’s plans to bring students in grades 6-12 back for full in-person learning.
The current timeline is to bring students in grades 6-12, who are currently in the hybrid model, back for their first full in-person learning day on Monday, April 12. It is important to note, students and families who opted for a fully remote option and wish to remain fully remote will have the option to do so.
“We have been diligently planning to have all of our students safely back in school as soon as possible, and we are now in a position to do that,” Superintendent Pires said. “Most of our grade 6-12 students have been in a hybrid learning model for almost a year, and we know that has impacted their enthusiasm for learning and social-emotional development. Staff have done an incredible job this school year, but virtual learning does not replace the in-person experience. I would like to thank Principals John Murray and Amanda Luizzi and their staff for their dedication and hard work to put these plans into motion.”
The district started the year with Pre-K-2 students participating in an in-person learning model for four days per week. Pre-K-3 students returned to full, five-day-per-week in-person learning in December 2020 and grades 4 and 5 returned to full in-person learning in January. The pathway to a full in-person return for grades 6-12 was more complex due to three primary barriers: physical distancing requirements, transportation and the need for regular COVID-19 testing. Following adjustments in guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the district has been able to address these barriers, allowing for a full return of grade 6-12 students.
In order to accommodate all students for a full return in April, physical distancing protocols will be lowered for students in grades 6-12, both in classrooms and on buses. DESE continues to recommend a minimum of 3 feet of physical distance when all other precautionary measures — including masks, hand hygiene, cleaning and contact tracing — are in place and districts should aim for 6 feet when feasible. This guidance is supported by public health experts.
Because masks are not worn during lunch, students need to maintain 6 feet of physical distance during lunchtimes. Due to this, lunch schedules and locations at both Medway High School and Medway Middle School are being evaluated to ensure all students will be able to be accommodated. The district is also currently reviewing arrival and dismissal procedures at both schools. Additionally, some changes may need to be made to students’ schedules or classrooms to balance out class sizes and accommodate all students in the available classroom spaces.
In February, DESE updated its transportation guidance. The new guidance lifted capacity limitations and physical distancing requirements for buses transporting students in districts where there is not a high community prevalence of COVID-19. The recent change to this guidance removed a critical barrier for schools. Safety measures such as mask-wearing and open windows will remain in place.
Furthermore, the pooled testing initiative began at Medway Middle School and Medway High School at the beginning of February. Approximately 55% of students in grades 5-12 are participating in weekly testing. Out of 2,280 tests administered since the beginning of the program three cases have been positive.
Regular staff testing has also taken place for several months with approximately 75% participation among K-12 staff members. Since testing began, a total of 3,031 tests have been administered with two positive results.
Being able to identify positive cases before they are symptomatic has allowed the district to notify families of the need to quarantine, therefore reducing the overall number of close contacts.
As COVID-19 case numbers continue to decrease around the region and the state, and greater numbers of individuals are able to access vaccinations, the district is hopeful about its ability to fully return students for the last months of school. These months will provide an important opportunity for students to reconnect to their school communities, as well as help the district better understand the impact school closures related to the pandemic had on students and plan accordingly.