Superintendent’s Report to the School Committee, 2/2/22

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Finalists

I’m pleased to announce the two finalists for the position of Assistant Superintendent for Student Services for the Masconomet Regional School District, Lynne Bennett and Brad Denton.  Both candidates will be available for evening interview sessions for interested members of the community at the dates and times below.  Interview sessions will be recorded and posted to the Masconomet website for later viewing.  For the full announcement, including the bios for each finalist, please go to: https://mascosuper.school.blog/2022/01/31/assistant-superintendent-for-student-services-finalists/

New COVID Testing Program

As I wrote to the Masconomet Community on February 1st, in accordance with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Department of Public Health (DPH), we are updating our COVID-19 Testing Program, effective February 14, 2022.  We are opting into an at-home testing program that will increase testing of our participating students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Through this program, we will be distributing one COVID-19 rapid test kit containing two tests every other week to any student or staff member who opts to receive one.  Participating individuals will be expected to administer one test at home each week on Sunday and to report any positive test results to their school.  For more information about this update to the statewide testing program, please click here

We will begin distribution of test kits in school during the week of February 14, 2022. This will allow all students and staff who opt into the program to take a test on February 27th before returning to school from February Break.  In addition to this new at-home antigen test option, we will continue with symptomatic testing during the week.  As part of this shift in the program, we are discontinuing Test and Stay and contact tracing for in-school close contacts as of February 18, 2022. This means that if your child is a potential close contact in school, they may continue to come to school and do not have to quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic.  Out of school close contacts will still be subject to current quarantine guidelines.  2This new at-home testing opportunity is voluntary and only those who opt-in will receive tests.  Opt-in forms will be sent out electronically later this week.

COVID Case Update

As I report the latest COVID cases at Masconomet, I want to repeat that the numbers I report represent only the cases that have been reported to the District through our local public health agencies.  These cases are identified either through the administration of a PCR test outside of school, a rapid antigen test at school through our Test and Stay and Symptomatic Programs, or have been reported by a physician to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  Because they do not contain results from rapid antigen tests that are administered at home and not reported to a physician, they are likely to underrepresent the actual number of cases that exist in our community.  The numbers I have presented in the past do seem to reflect the general prevalence of COVID in our community, but they are by no means meant to be comprehensive.

The reported COVID cases at Masconomet for the last two weeks are continuing to trend in a positive direction.  For the two-week period from  January 20th through February 2nd, we’ve had fourteen reported COVID cases at Masconomet.  That’s down from 39 cases for the period from January 6th through January 19th.

Our average daily student attendance has also returned to more normal rates from their highs in early January.

Masconomet Average Daily Attendance, January 2022

Masconomet High SchoolMasconomet Middle School
Dates:Avg. Daily Absences/Total StudentsAverage Daily % AbsentAvg. Daily Absences/Total StudentsAverage Daily % Absent
1/3/22-1/10/22167/104216%66/59511%
1/25/22-1/31/2262/10426%30/5955%

For the sake of comparison, the Middle and High Schools both averaged around 5% student absences during the same weeks in January of 2020.

The month of January 2022 had a total of 84 reported COVID cases, which is almost twice as many cases as the other 5 months of the 2021-2022 school year combined (44 total cases in Sept., Oct., Nov., and Feb.).  In January, there were 49 reported high school student cases, 18 reported middle school student cases and 17 reported faculty cases.

Test and Stay and Symptomatic Testing Programs also saw their highest usage during January 2022.  We administered a combined 161 rapid tests through these two programs in January 2022.  There were 15 positive results from these 161 tests, which is a 9% positivity rate.  Our positivity rate for all other months in the 2021-2022 school year is 2%.  Since September 21, 2021, we have administered 381 total tests and had a total of 19 positive results, which is an overall 5% positivity rate.

Masconomet Test and Stay and Symptomatic Testing ResultsTests AdministeredPositive Results% Positivity
Month of January 2022161159%
All Other Months in 2021-202222042%
Totals for 2021-2022 School Year381195%

Mask Waiver Update

As I explained in my last update to the School Committee, Masconomet reached the 80% vaccination threshold set by DESE for allowing vaccinated students and staff the option of removing their masks on December 7, 2021.  Masconomet received the waiver from DESE on December 17, 2021.  The Town of Boxford still maintains a face covering order that applies to Masconomet.  Ultimately, this local public health order prevails over any other state requirement.

In October of 2021, the Boxford Board of Health communicated to me that they would be open to considering a waiver for Masconomet from the face covering order under two conditions. The first condition was meeting the 80% vaccination threshold and receiving the waiver from DESE. The second condition was:

“That, as made clear in the DESE Communication of 27 September 2021, unvaccinated students and staff shall continue to be required to wear masks.  We will require your confirmation that this will be done and how you will enforce this requirement.”

Letter from Boxford Board of Health dated October 4, 2021

As we’ve discussed at several School Committee Meetings since October, this provision from DESE and the Boxford Board of Health that unvaccinated students and staff be required to wear masks presented a challenge that did not have a practical solution.  As I explained in my last School Committee report and in more detail in this report, our positive case numbers in January did not support the removal of masks from anyone at the school.  On January 16th, I also explained that we were in the process of implementing DESE’s new testing program that I referenced earlier in this report and that this would require the focus of our Executive Leadership Team for the near future. 

Since my last report on this topic to the School Committee on January 19th, there have been some new developments.  Last Friday, January 28th, Rob Curtin, Associate Commissioner at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education held a conference call with superintendents who have a school that has reached the 80% vaccination threshold and received the DESE waiver. Waivers from the DESE mask requirement are done on an individual school basis.  There are approximately 30 schools out of well over 1,000 public schools in the State of Massachusetts that have received this waiver.  Because of our building layout and our shared spaces, we requested and were approved to have Masconomet Middle and High School viewed as one “school” by DESE for the purpose of the waiver. 

Associate Commissioner Curtin began the January 28th call by polling to see which districts had a school that was mask-optional on January 28.  Only one school, Cohasset High School, indicated that it was.  Two other schools, King Phillip Regional and Norwell High School, indicated they were returning to “mask optional” status on Monday, January 31st.  These schools had implemented optional masks in November and then returned to mandatory masks after Thanksgiving because of the surge.  A few other superintendents indicated their schools were moving in the direction or removing masks in the next few weeks.  To my knowledge, only one other school district on the north shore, Essex Northshore Agricultural and Technical School has even received a waiver.  The notion that Masconomet is somehow “behind” on moving to a mask optional environment is entirely false.

After providing the context on schools that are “mask optional” for the group, Associate Commissioner Curtin informed the superintendents on the call that the purpose of the meeting was for DESE to notify districts that DESE had enacted a policy change in the January 10th extension of the mask mandate that until this meeting had not been explicitly communicated to school districts.  In the January 10th extension, DESE changed from a “requirement” that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks in schools that had received the DESE waiver to a “recommendation” that unvaccinated individuals wear masks.  Associate Commissioner Curtin explained that this change was made because schools that had enacted the DESE waiver had found it nearly impossible to enforce mask-wearing for unvaccinated individuals.

In effect, implementing the mask waiver under the new DESE policy means that masks will be optional for all students and staff at Masconomet, including the 19%, or roughly 400 members of our school community, that are unvaccinated.  Earlier this week, I emailed Dr. Dick Taylor, the Chair of the Boxford Board of Health and set a time to speak with him this week to inform him of these changes to the DESE policy.  During this meeting, I will ask him to have the Boxford Board of Health at its next meeting on February 16th consider voting to exempt Masconomet from the Town of Boxford’s face covering requirement under the new DESE policy.  I plan to propose for the Boxford Board of Health’s consideration that Masconomet would implement a “mask optional” environment beginning on March 14, 2022.  Ultimately, I believe that it is important that we move towards a more “normal” world, but we also need to make sure the current downward trend in case numbers continues and we do not have another surge in cases after February vacation before we make a change.  Waiting until mid-March will also allow us the time to work towards solutions to any concerns that the Boxford Board of Health may have before they grant a waiver from their face covering order.

Published by mascosuper

Superintendent of the Masconomet Regional School District

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