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Update on Testing, Vaccines, and Return to In-Person Learning Working Group


Update on Testing, Vaccines, and Return to In-Person Learning Working Group - Superintendent's Bulletin #24 - School Opening 2020-2021

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Staff;

I understand the email sent last week regarding hybrid model changes was met with unease as it appeared there were not as many changes to the elementary and middle school models as anticipated. Please know our intention in communicating this information to you was to provide a timely update and not to cause distress. The initial changes to the models was to satisfy the DESE requirement for the February 1 deadline. We continue to negotiate with the Belmont Education Association (BEA) on the remainder of the advisory group recommendations to the hybrid models.

As the year progresses, and in an effort to look forward, we are providing you an update today as it relates to testing and vaccinations. In addition, we are also providing you with update on the Return to In-Person Learning Working Group, which will provide community feedback and input on the challenges and opportunities that face all districts at this time. We understand our students need more direct instruction and in-person learning. We are optimistic that with health initiatives combined with this working group in place, we will be prepared for acting on any shifts in guidance and health metrics so we may look to enjoy more live instruction and/or in-person learning.

Below please see the latest news regarding COVID testing, vaccines for our educators, and the launch of our Return to In-Person Learning Working Group:

State Pool Testing Program

As you know, we applied for the state COVID pool surveillance testing along with the BinaxNOW antigen testing of students and staff (BinaxNOW is not surveillance testing but for individuals who present with symptoms during the day and for individual follow-up testing if in a positive COVID pool). Please see the email sent to families on January 12 that speaks more about pool testing. Our nurses are currently training in the BinaxNOW testing. The goal is for the district to pilot pool testing with our high school students and staff on March 1. For high school families, please keep an eye out for communications from the Director of Nursing Beth Rumley with further information on this subject as we prepare for March 1. This DESE sponsored pool testing pilot will take place for a period of four weeks. As we learn more during those four weeks and working with DESE, we will determine the future of this type of testing in our schools.

Vaccinations for Educators

The Belmont Public Schools along with the BEA signed a letter drafted by the Tri-County Superintendents’ Roundtable to Governor Baker to request educators be reclassified as eligible for COVID vaccinations in the earlier part of Phase 2. This regional group of superintendents and union leadership wanted to support and strongly recommend educators be reclassified, and hope the governor will recognize the need for this shift as one component of safety measures in order to move forward with more in-person learning. DESE will relay any shift in vaccine priority to school districts when it becomes available.

In addition, the school department met with town department administrators and the board of health to discuss how to provide local vaccine locations to support the town and the school community. We look forward to updated information from the state on vaccine availability as the town of Belmont prepares to support this effort.

Return to In-Person Learning Working Group

Understanding the urgency of students needing more time in person, and the challenges we have in Belmont with space and enrollment, we are starting a Return to In-Person Learning Working Group to identify these challenges and provide guidance to move the work forward. This working group will provide information for review by the Superintendent and the public on a rolling basis, looking at the remainder of this school year and towards September. Please see the presentation to the School Committee at the February 2 meeting which outlines the charge, context timeline, composition of the group, and the strategic planning chart. We anticipate the group members will be will selected by February 10, with a first meeting on February 22. Please watch for an email with a link to a Google form today from the superintendent’s office asking for people who are interested in joining this working group.

Respectfully,

John P. Phelan
Superintendent of Schools
Belmont, Massachusetts