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North Adams Schools Set Protocols for COVID-19 Cases
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
03:51AM / Wednesday, September 08, 2021
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The School Committee reviews COVID-19 protocols on Tuesday.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Department will be following the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education when it comes to managing COVID-19 outbreaks. 
Students in grades kindergarten through 8 returned to classrooms Tuesday and Drury High School opens Wednesday; prekindergarten will resume next Tuesday. 
The School Committee approved new handbooks for the schools, which include the mask mandate put in place by the Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley last month and in effect at least through Oct. 1. The committee also reviewed the protocols from DESE that will determine when students and staff will have to quarantine. 
Superintendent Barbara Malkas said the school district will continue the COVID-19 surveillance testing program that was implemented in the last school year. Families who signed up last year will have to provide and updated consent form and all students are being encouraged to participate in the once a week testing. 
Children not signed up will not be able to participate in the "test and stay" protocol that will allow those who were in close contact with someone infected to stay in school as long as they are asymptomatic and take a rapid result test every day for seven days. Close contact is anyone who was not wearing a mask and was less than 3 feet from an infected individual.
"If someone tests positive for COVID — whether they're in school or out of school — they have been identified as positive for COVID, then they need to go home," Malkas said. "They need to return to school on day 11. So that's 10 days at home."
Those who are not vaccinated and not participating in any testing can return to school on day 11 as along as they are not showing symptoms and do not a have a fever after 24 hours without any fever-reducing medicine. 
Students not signed up in the surveillance testing will have to quarantine at home following a close contact and monitor symptoms through 14 days but can return after seven days if they get a negative PCR test. 
Some individuals are exempt from quarantine and testing: those who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, those who had COVID-19 within the prior 90 days, and those in close contact (less than 3 feet) on a bus as long as they were wearing a mask and the windows were open.  
Anyone showing symptoms including fever of 100 degrees or higher, chills, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, and body aches and pains but testing negative will confer with the school nurse and maybe treated for quarantine even if testing negative. 
"They can return to school once their symptoms improve, with a negative PCR test," said Malkas. "If the parents elect not to test, then they need to return to school on day 11 after symptoms improve. ...
"The protocols now are really predicated on the idea that it's beneficial to be vaccinated because if you're vaccinated, you don't have to quarantine as long as you're asymptomatic, and even if you are symptomatic, it affords you a lower number of days out of school to recover."
The superintendent pointed out that children under age 12 cannot yet be vaccinated. The county currently has about a 70 percent rate of vaccination for eligible individuals — anyone age 12 and older. 
The committee is also considering how it can meet in person but still allow people to attend by remote. 
"I heard very strongly from many members of the committee that there's a desire to be back in person and certainly because we know that our educators and our students are back in person and want to model that as best we can," said Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman of the committee. 
Malkas said she and her team had visited several locations with "a very critical eye at the different potential venues" that would allow in person meetings and "also allow for still the opportunity for remote participation by anybody who is wanting to come because we've had an increase in participation."
Prime spots were the gymnasium at Colegrove Park Elementary, but it has some echo issues; the library at Drury High School, but that may require limiting the capacity; and the second-floor conference room at City Hall, which would allow for remote participation if the attendees were limited to the committee. 
"The library at Drury High School to me feels like the best option," said Malkas. "Because as I said, with our younger students not being eligible for vaccine, I'm really trying to keep those spaces limited to the school populations that they serve, at least at the high school. ...
"I think that what the School Committee needs to really discuss and decide upon is, what is a comfortable physical distance for in-person meetings."
Member Emily Daunis asked if it was necessary to make a decision now, especially with colder weather ahead and unknowns with novel coronavirus. She also noted that it would require setting up communications and cords in other settings.  
"I mean it's been OK with Zoom. We're seeing great participation," she said. "We could just do it a little bit longer."
Member Tara Jacobs liked the hybrid approach and asked if the meeting room could be expanded (it has a sliding partition) to provide more room and have only presenters attend meetings.
"We've always had our in person attendees who are clearly are the loyal attendees who attend regardless of the format but there's been an increase because of the remote that I think probably needs that easy access," she asked. "I fully co-sign the concerns of Delta variant safety issues and I am not excited about in-person meeting, but we're having our staff and our students show up in person so I still, I feel do we do this safely?"
Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger thought the committee should reassess at the October meeting, which the others members endorsed. 
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