Friday, January 22, 2021

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Regional 4 School District Extends Remote Learning for Students

With state-wide indicators of COVID-19 transmission increasing, students in the Regional 4 (R4) school district will continue remote learning until at least Friday, Dec. 4.

Citing a push from the state “against preemptive district-wide closures in response to COVID-19 related concerns,” Superintendent of Schools Brian White said that families and staff will receive a communication on that date regarding which mode of school will be used for the week of Dec. 7 to 11.

The district’s decision-making correlates with sets of COVID-19 data issued by the state Department of Public Health each Thursday. The use of statewide metrics and the timing of announcements related to changes in modes of school was discussed at a Nov. 19 Deep River Board of Education (BOE) meeting.

“Up until now, much of our decision-making has been driven by our experience in the schools,” White said at the meeting.

As the school buildings have been closed since early November, and with increased spread of the virus state-wide and in Chester, Deep River, and Essex, White said that “hospitalization rates, fatality rates, and numbers of cases per 100,000 people” are going to more heavily influence the district’s decision making.

Marc Lewis, a member of the Deep River BOE, questioned the use of state metrics, saying “it’s a leading indicator, but it’s also a lag,” in terms of the perpetuation of cases and that “just looking at those leaders is not going to give the community the smoothness and transitions back and forth with their kids either being on the ground or at home.”

White explained the need to make decisions based on data.

“If I had announced two weeks ago that we were going to stay closed all the way through December, I would argue that would be irresponsible, for the simple fact that I would not have had adequate data to determine that that length of closure was necessary based on our plan,” he said.

White said that the district will need to make incremental decisions on which mode of learning to use, making assessments at one- or two-week intervals.

“That’s barring any statewide decision. I mean the government could still come in as they did in the spring and shut us down, but absent a unilateral shut down from the state, that is likely the way we’re going to have to proceed,” said White.

Concerns related to an anticipated surge in cases after the Thanksgiving holiday, based on the district’s experiences after Halloween, also influenced the district’s decision to continue remote learning.

“I can tell you anecdotally that at the time of our closure…we saw a significant uptick in cases and although we don’t have necessarily the data to prove it specifically, it did coincide with the window of time that came after Halloween,” said White.

“We just know from interactions with members of our communities that there were several Halloween gatherings, so I think that concern is real,” he added.

When the initial move to remote learning was made, in the first week of November, the district was challenged with several new cases of COVID-19, staffing shortages, along with numerous staff and student quarantines.

What was of more concern, though, was asymptomatic spread of the virus at Essex Elementary School (EES).

“We had a significant frequency of cases in a relatively short time frame stemming from what appears to be a single source in that school,” said White. “We also have reason to believe that those cases connect to other cases in the community.”

White said that the circumstances of the transmission at EES is currently under investigation with the state Department of Public Health.

“There was significant anecdotal evidence that suggested the possibility of in-school transmission, which had us very concerned,” said White. “Even if it’s not hard proof of in-school transmission based on the number of symptomatic cases, the statistics would tell us that there is a much higher percentage of asymptotic cases.”

As of Nov. 23, the district, along with local public health officials, were monitoring several positive cases of COVID-19 in the school communities.

At EES, there were three positive cases of COVID-19, with quarantines ending prior to Nov. 30. There was one case at Valley Regional High School, with no quarantines of other students or staff necessary because the school buildings have been closed.

At Chester Elementary School, numerous students and staff were ending quarantines related to two positive cases. An additional positive case impacted one student who will end a quarantine on Nov. 27. A staff member who tested positive will also quarantine through Nov. 30.

There were no new active cases under investigation at Deep River Elementary School or John Winthrop Middle School.

Information on free COVID-19 testing is available at www.chc1.com.


Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at e.reinhart@shorepublishing.com.

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