April 6, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
Monitoring and helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Hingham Public Schools as well as in the overall community "is essential for the safe operations of our schools," especially with April vacation on the horizon, Supt. of Schools Paul Austin emphasized during last night's School Committee meeting.
Looking toward Spring break the week of April 18, Austin and Committee members are asking that everyone in the HPS community with travel plans adhere to a COVID-19 travel advisory that mirrors the state's, which he outlined during last night's session, along with an accompanying COVID-19 testing initiative.
"We recognize that families have been isolated for a very long time and now want to travel, but we are requesting that they partner with us in an effort to ensure the health and safety of our entire school community," Austin said.
These expectations include:
- Informing office staff at your child's school if your family is planning to travel out of state (regardless of location) and also providing the anticipated return date.
- Prior to returning to in-person learning following vacation, all pre-K through grade 12 students who have traveled out of state are asked to quarantine for 10 days, show proof of immunization, or obtain a negative PCR COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours prior to his/her return to Massachusetts.
- Parents/guardians are asked to provide a copy of all negative test results to the school nurse prior to a student’s return to the classroom.
"The district is committed to making every effort to provide a safe learning environment for all students and to minimize interruptions to instruction for COVID-related reasons," Austin said. "We need your help."
COVID testing initiative
In an effort to ensure a safe and healthy return to school after the April break, HPS is planning to offer free pool testing for all students on Friday, April 23.
"We are asking for parent support of this initiative and believe it is in the best interest of our students to test as many individuals as possible at the conclusion of the school break," Austin said.
For students who are pool tested, the results will be available to the district between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, April 24 and 25. All students in a positive pool will be contacted, with testing available on Sunday by qualified nurses using the BinaxNOW Rapid test (results in 15 minutes). Any student who tests positive with the BinaxNOW test will be required to quarantine for a period of 10 days before returning to school.
Testing will also be available for students who return at the very end of vacation, according to Austin. HPS will conduct a survey later this week to determine how many families are willing to participate. Austin encouraged even those who have been vaccinated to participate in pool testing.
In response to Austin's comment that some parents may not opt for their children to be pool tested because they don't want them to miss school (if they are not enrolled in remote learning) should they test positive, parent Katie Sutton suggested allowing students who are normally engaged in in-person learning to "zoom in" to classes for a few days might encourage broader participation in the pool testing program.
Austin said that will be a topic of conversation among school officials prior to Spring break. While acknowledging that missing time from school if necessary after returning from vacation would be inconvenient, he also said that not being able to attend graduation and other end-of-year activities would be worse "if we have a big problem with COVID at that time. We don't want anyone to be in jeopardy."
One parent said that while he understands the importance of maintaining the health and safety of students and staff, "This feels like an overreach. I'm not sure this is enforceable."
School Committee Chair Kerry Ni explained that being a part of the partnership with HPS is voluntary. "We are requesting [widespread] participation," she said. "A tremendous amount of work has gone into returning students to school full-time, and we have to keep them safe. We all have to do our part."
That said, Ni acknowledged, "We can't kick a student out of school if a parent doesn't have his or her child pool tested."
Last night the Committee discussed proposed travel policy revisions that would be consistent with changing state guidance and will continue that conversation prior to Spring vacation -- next Monday, April 12, at 6 p.m. How vaccinations will play into the overall scenario will likely also be addressed. Watch for the meeting listing on the Town of Hingham calendar, hingham-ma.gov.