District Email Update: December 7, 2020
I wanted to take a moment to update the community on some recent developments in the Dedham Public Schools and the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a lot going on during a stressful time of year and I encourage you to review the issues outlined below.
First, a big “thank you” to our students, faculty/staff, and families for your continued vigilance and safe practices throughout this pandemic. Over the holidays when travel and family gatherings are part of the traditions many of us observe, we have successfully sustained our hybrid model of learning, keeping all of our schools open. We continue to ask all our students who are attending school in-person to complete a weekly Health Attestation form, and remind all of you that if you must travel in the coming weeks that you follow the Governor’s MA Travel Guidelines and complete the necessary testing or quarantine.
Some of you may be aware that in the past two weeks there has been shifting public health guidance regarding the length of quarantine for “close contacts” of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Yesterday the MA Department of Public Health aligned their guidance to the CDC’s “acceptable alternatives” to a 14-day quarantine for identified close contacts. I want to be clear that the Dedham Public Schools will continue to exclude students and faculty/staff for a full 14 days for all close-contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This mandatory 14-day exclusion from schools will continue through the holidays and into January. We will continue to closely monitor cases in the Dedham community and revisit this threshold as circumstances dictate to maintain confidence in our safety protocols.
Since the start of the Thanksgiving break, we have seen an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in Dedham. We will always provide notification to the school community when a documented case that was present in our schools is recorded. What we have NOT seen is any evidence of transmission that traces back to our schools or classrooms. This is an important distinction to ensuring we are responding appropriately and with diligence throughout this public health crisis. Overall, since students returned to our schools in early October, Dedham Public Schools have had 30 students and 12 staff with documented positive COVID-19 cases. Most of these individuals were not in the school buildings when their cases were positive (some were learning remotely and/or already in quarantine), and none of these cases appear to have originated from exposure in our facilities.
Many of you are aware of Governor Baker’s recommendations to have students back in our classrooms full time. While we would like to return all students full time as soon as possible, the reality for Dedham is that our classrooms and school buildings are not designed with the space necessary to be able to accommodate all students full time while also allowing for the necessary CDC guidance and protocols that are helping keep students, faculty, and staff safe with regards to this virus. For more of a glimpse into the challenges facing school districts trying to navigate the balance of logistics, contracts, safety and changing guidelines, in my opinion, the attached article by the Boston Globe from last Thursday accurately sums up the dilemmas in this situation.
Some of you may also be wondering if we will find our District going fully remote if positive cases continue to increase in our Dedham community. As has been the case throughout this pandemic, we will continue to work closely with the Dedham Board of Health on guidance and decision-making. As Superintendent, I can share my current perspective, which is that decisions to go fully remote will be made on a classroom-by-classroom and a school-by-school basis. I am very concerned about the impact this prolonged isolation is having on the mental health and emotional well-being of our students. We will continue to do everything we can to safely maintain the important connections that in-person learning provides for all members of the Dedham Public Schools.
There are several factors that must be taken into account in order to determine if a school is to have a change in their learning approach. Closely investigating any positive cases to ensure our schools are not the source of viral spread is one such factor. Another factor is ensuring we have adequate teaching and support staff to safely and effectively operate our schools. Faculty and staff (and their children and families) are subject to quarantine when they are close contacts to cases in schools, their homes, and their communities. Some staff have been forced to go on leave due to child care needs when their home districts switch to a fully remote learning model. This creates a domino effect that impacts our operations in Dedham. I am working closely with our principals to ensure that we are adapting to staff fluctuations and adopting alternative plans as needed, which continues to be a key metric in the decision-making process.
Throughout this pandemic I have been constantly impressed by the dedication of faculty and staff who are doing everything they can to make educating the students of Dedham a safe, inviting, and enriching experience. We have learned a lot as a school district, and we will continue to learn, adapt and test new approaches to learning in the days ahead. However, we are not through this crisis yet, and have a lot more to do. With our collective continued vigilance, we will make it through this crisis safely.
Finally, we are interested in your experiences and feedback about teaching and learning during this complicated year. Later this week we will be sending a feedback survey to all faculty, staff, parents, and grade 6-12 students. We are all being asked to do challenging things this fall, and the stress this creates can be exasperating. Please take the time to complete this survey recognizing the complexities we all face in our own situations and roles. Your thoughtful input will help us better understand your views.
Thank you for helping us keep our schools open and our community safe! Now more than ever, we need everyone to be vigilant in all parts of the community when outside your home. Wear a mask, stay socially distanced, wash your hands, and remain optimistic that with everyone’s cooperation, we will hopefully return to some semblance of normalcy in the days ahead. We are truly all in this together and dependent upon one another.
All my best,