Students under the age of 18 will be able to receive COVID-19 testing early next week, according to Tisbury health agent Maura Valley.
Although an exact start date for testing has not been determined, Valley told The Times Island Health Care will be ready to begin testing minors at the TestMV site by next week, and the process will work the same as it does right now.
“They will make an appointment, and anyone ages 14 to 18 can come without a parent, as long as they have a signed parental consent form. Anyone under 14 would need a parent with them,” Valley said.
Testing is an option, but is not required, for students to return to Island schools, though Valley said discussions are ongoing, and state guidance on reopening schools continues to evolve.
The school reopening plan spearheaded by the reopening task force is ever-changing, as officials work to create a timeline for when students return to in-person learning.
At a previous All-Island School Committee meeting, administrators proposed a phased approach that would see all students back in their schools utilizing a hybrid learning model on Oct. 1.
At Thursday’s All-Island meeting, Superintendent Matt D’Andrea presented a proposal with an altered timeline, a cost projection analysis, and a possible metric for evaluating COVID-19 risk levels on Martha’s Vineyard.
The current proposed reopening plan (which must be voted on by each individual school district) still has students going to a remote learning model on Sept. 17, with all students back in the physical buildings by Oct. 27.
Under the proposed plan, K-2 (K-3 for the up-Island district) students would transition to a hybrid learning model on Sept. 29. Grades 3-5 would switch to the hybrid on Oct. 13, and students in grades 6-8 and all high schoolers would transition on Oct. 27.
D’Andrea said the reason up-Island students in grades K-3 would go back with K-2 students in other schools is because Chilmark has mixed classrooms — a K-1 classroom, and a 2-3 classroom.
“We don’t want to split that 2-3 classroom, and it makes sense to do it district-wide, so at West Tisbury, they would have their third grade going back that day too,” D’Andrea said.
The cohort model that was proposed as the primary method for accommodating students in person while adhering to distancing guidelines is also being worked on.
As of now, schools would utilize four cohorts: students in cohorts A and B would be fully engaged in the hybrid model. Cohort A would attend school in-person on Monday and Tuesday, and cohort B would attend school in-person on Thursday and Friday. Cohort C would serve high-needs students who may require additional support, or may need to get back to in-person learning as soon as possible.
Cohort D would serve fully remote students whose parents opt out of in-person learning.
For all cohorts, Wednesday would be a fully remote day when students could engage in teacher check-ins, social-emotional learning, mentor groups, and tutoring through Zoom. Wednesday would also be a day for schools to deep-clean their facilities.
Island schools are also looking at adopting a metric that would determine the risk factor for in-person learning. D’Andrea presented a metric developed by the Harvard Global Health Institute that uses reports of daily case counts per 100,000 people, and translates that into a risk level represented by a color. There are four different risk levels: red, orange, yellow, and green. He said a metric is being developed by the state that will eventually be used as a universal indicator of COVID-19 risk level for schools. Based on that metric, the Island is currently in the green zone, which means less than one new case per day per 100,000 people on-Island.
Committee chair Robert Lionette said he wants to know why, using the metric D’Andrea proposed as a possibility, Island schools aren’t going back at the outset of September.
“Using the metric you wish to apply, I don’t understand why we aren’t a go,” Lionette said. “I want to understand what the data is that is being applied, and what the hard metrics are that this timeline is based upon.”
Committee member Alex Salop agreed, and said that for any ratio to be considered, it has to have a denominator.
D’Andrea said the high school had an assessment conducted of the heating, ventilation, and cooling systems, which identified ways to improve airflow and ventilation in the building.
According to the assessment, opening windows is one of the easiest ways to improve air quality, although the school will incur higher heating costs because of the open windows, according to high school finance manager Mark Friedman.
The assessment also noted high-efficiency air filters, portable filtration units, and regular replacing of filters as good ways to improve ventilation.
With increased custodial needs, personal protective equipment costs, facilities modifications, and other financial considerations, Island schools are looking at a significant increase in their unanticipated expenditures for FY21.
Despite receiving almost $2 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant funds, Island schools are looking at more unanticipated costs. Friedman estimated the budget impact for things like PPE, transportation, and information technology, among other things, at $1.2 million and likely to increase.
According to Edgartown health agent Matt Poole, it’s difficult to know where the schools stand with reopening when there is no data currently available for minors. He highlighted the importance of testing students in order to get a baseline, and advocated for a gradual return to in-person learning. “I think it would be incredibly risky to jump into school in September,” Poole said.
Parent Liza Williamson told The Times she was surprised to hear that school officials were pushing back the date that all students would switch to a hybrid model, without having the metrics to make that decision.
In a letter Williamson wrote to the All-Island School Committee, she said keeping students out of the classroom for that long would take a heavy toll on families, and would leave working parents without options.
“I appreciate our fantastic teachers and administrators (in my opinion they are all essential). However, this model is not the same for children who have no parents at home,” Williamson wrote. “This model leaves working parents without options. All models that incorporate remote learning risk expanding inequities in education among our population.”
Williamson said she wishes the school would look more at the mental health effects this could have on children who are home alone all day, and also have the pressure of trying to learn and navigate Google Classroom, assignments, and Zoom on their own.
“It is also mentally and emotionally devastating for a parent to be at work all day, all week, knowing their children are home alone and with this pressure. What are the options some of these parents have? Not all are essential workers, but work is essential for them,” Williamson said.
Williamson also asked about options for children who are too young to be left unattended during the school day.
“The experts, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who base their recommendations on data and metrics, recommend that in-person learning is believed to be possible, and is in the best interest of our students, even from a risk-versus-benefit standpoint,” Williamson said.