At a superintendent’s forum Tuesday, school officials asserted that there is no COVID spread happening within Island schools, and denied allegations of a Halloween party that purportedly involved Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) staff.
During the forum, parents, teachers, and community members asked questions about the potential for in-school spread, and wondered how the schools are making sure any chance of transmission is mitigated to the fullest extent. Superintendent Matt D’Andrea reiterated his confidence in the protocols put in place by the health and safety committee of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools, which consists of nurses, physicians, health agents, and school administration.
“I am very confident we are not seeing any spread in our schools,” D’Andrea said. “One of the biggest challenges is that we have had large numbers of staff and students who have had to quarantine.”
He continued to say that certain classes and grades have gone fully remote because of the lack of personnel, due to quarantining.
Although the Island has seen an uptick in COVID cases recently, D’Andrea said with confidence that he believes kids are safe in school, and the rate of transmission in schools has been proven to be minimal through significant research, compared with outside of schools.
“I feel very very strongly that our kids are safe in school from the virus because of the safety measures, and there is significant research showing that,” he said. “I urge you to not be reluctant to send your child to school.”
One concerned community member asked about rumors of a large number of MVRHS staff who allegedly took part in an out-of-school gathering and then required quarantine.
“Similar activity among students was a front-page article,” the comment read. “Have you had a broad conversation with staff about their role in preventing the spread of the virus?”
D’Andrea said he had heard rumors of a Halloween party that involved staff, but he denied those allegations, and said, “One thing I have learned is that rumors can really circulate on the Island, but that is not a true one.”
He added that he is confident in the school staff’s ability to conduct themselves in a safe manner outside school, and that “everyone understands and are working the best they can to do their part.”
MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy said she finds the allegations “insulting and undermining to the work we are doing at the high school.”
“I heard that too, and I honestly was furious. It’s a story, and I think people looked at the numbers and made hypotheses that I think were just really outlandish and undermining,” Dingledy said. “We show up every day, and we work hard for kids.”
She added that the extensive safety measures taken in school and around-the-clock planning should serve as a representation of how dedicated administrators and staff are to the safety of the population, both inside and outside of MVRHS walls.
Testing is coming
D’Andrea said schools are continuing their work on getting asymptomatic testing in place for pools of students and staff on-Island. The goal is to begin testing the first week in January, he said, and added that the Island has completed all the requirements to qualify for the state-offered in-school symptomatic testing program.
School officials are meeting to work out a date when students can continue to be brought back into school and “restart the re-entry process,” according to D’Andrea.
“The fact we aren’t seeing spread in the schools and the fact there seems to be a leveling-off in positive tests around the Island, I think we should look at moving forward and bringing back more students,” he said.
One parent asked about protocols for students in the remote learning cohort who may want to switch to in-person. D’Andrea said if students want to switch to in-person classes, they should try to do so at the end of this term. Families can call the main office of their school and speak to the principal about in-person learning.
Another forum participant wondered “what the holdup” has been for kids returning to school, to which D’Andrea replied, “The holdup has been caution, uncertainty; it has been not wanting to make a mistake that could potentially risk someone’s life.”
One concerned parent asked how the mental health of children is being weighed against the physical safety in school buildings.
“There has been an uptick in restraining orders, and many have children in K-12 who are stuck at home in an abusive family situation,” the parent said. “These are the ones who are brave enough to get an order. There are many who cannot.”
D’Andrea acknowledged the seriousness of the situation surrounding students’ mental health, and said school counselors are reaching out to students and continuing to engage with families who need support. “I do believe that getting kids back in school will help with that as well,” he added.