JAFFREY — At least one Jaffrey-Rindge School District student who’d likely been exposed to COVID-19 returned to school in person Tuesday, the first day for in-person learning in the district in 2021. The potential exposure came just days after district teachers lobbied the school board for stronger COVID-19 safety protocols.
Near the end of the school day Tuesday, the district was notified that a student at Jaffrey Grade School had a parent test positive for the COVID-19 virus. Students were in the process of dismissal when the district was informed, and the student was dismissed at the regular time, according to district Communications Coordinator Nicholas Handy.
“The student in question was able to complete the day but only because we didn’t have any information about the confirmed positive until the day was over,” Handy said. “At no point during the school day did the student demonstrate any COVID-19 symptoms. Had we had information earlier in the day, or if the student in question began to show symptoms, we would have followed our protocols and the student would have been sent home.”
Jaffrey Grade School had a coincidentally scheduled remote-learning day Wednesday and planned to continue its scheduled in-person learning for the remainder of the week. Students and staff returning in person are pre-screened and asked about their symptoms, out-of-state travel and contact with any people who have tested positive, Handy said, and any student or staff deemed to have had close contact with a positive case is asked to quarantine at home.
“Our nurses communicate regularly so that if one family member is impacted in some way by COVID-19, the appropriate steps can be taken for any siblings within the district,” Handy said.
During its meeting Tuesday night, the school board discussed COVID-19-related needs at all three schools, with the main issue being teaching resources, according to Superintendent Reuben Duncan.
Duncan said he had toured all three school buildings — including Jaffrey Grade School — on Tuesday. During the board’s last meeting, several teachers requested that the district enact stricter protocols or enforcement of the district’s already in-place policies, including masking.
Mark Haley, a teacher in the district, as well as the acting president for the Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting to clarify previous remarks he had made about safety protocols. He said his main concern was not the enforcement that was going on within the schools but that the protocols themselves needed to be strengthened.
Haley also reiterated a request he made the week prior, for the board to look at what he referred to as a “true hybrid model.”
While Jaffrey-Rindge has operated on a hybrid model where Wednesday is a remote-learning day when there is a dedicated cleaning at the school buildings, Haley said it was “disingenuous” to refer to that model as a “hybrid” of in-person and remote. Haley said he would prefer to see a model where half of the student population attended classes at a time, to reduce the population and make social distancing more possible.
Last Thursday, Haley had suggested a similar idea, and though school board member John McCarthy also suggested the board should consider that idea, the board did not discuss the possibility in any detail.
Another district teacher, Charlotte Elwell, expressed concern that the board’s decision to return to in-person learning had been based, in part, on a study regarding COVID-19 in schools, which indicated that when community spread is at low or moderate levels, schools do not appear to contribute significantly to community spread of the virus. Elwell pointed out that the spread in Jaffrey and Rindge and the county is well above the numbers cited in that study. While she acknowledged the study was not the only factor in the board’s decision, she said it was something for the board to consider.
“It clearly does not apply to our current situation,” Elwell said.
As of Jan. 19, community transmission was considered “substantial” for the county.
Duncan said in his tours of the schools on Tuesday, students appeared to be following the guidelines, though he said he had to “give the nod” to several students who were wearing masks incorrectly, not covering their nose, to have them adjust their covering.
“Kids were doing what they were supposed to be doing,” Duncan said.
In speaking with administrators, Duncan said, the biggest issue appeared to be staffing. Staffing in both elementary schools, as well as the middle/high school building, is currently “strained.”
Duncan said there were periods on Tuesday when both elementary schools had classes covered by building principals.
Duncan requested the ability to advertise and hire additional long-term substitutes to address the staffing issues. The district has had issues securing short-term substitutes, and a long-term substitute gives “more flexibility,” Duncan said.
A long-term substitute requires additional qualifications and receives pay equivalent to about $25 per hour, about twice what short-term substitutes receive.
The board did not object to hiring additional long-term substitutes for the second semester.
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