District, teachers to meet again as agreement not yet approved

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A memorandum of agreement between the school district and the Hopkinton Teachers Association was not approved by the HTA, but superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said talks will continue and she remains optimistic about a resolution with less than a week before school is to reopen.

The HTA had met Wednesday night to discuss the deal that had been agreed to earlier in the week by leaders from the two sides. The School Committee scheduled a meeting Thursday night in the hopes that it could vote on the pact following the HTA’s approval. However, the HTA did not move it forward.

“There was a tentative memorandum of agreement in place. That has not been approved at this time. So we are still working with the HTA,” Cavanaugh told the School Committee. “Hopefully we’re going to be able to come to some resolution. We are meeting with them tomorrow morning at 8:30, and then meeting again tomorrow afternoon after 1 p.m. So we are really accelerating the process, spending a lot of time with the association.

“I know that people in the community have concerns, and we just want you to know that we are feeling like we are in a good place today and that we are hopeful. I know that I say that every time I talk to people and I know that it gets very challenging to hear me say that repeatedly. But this process really only works if we work very carefully together, and I think tomorrow morning we’ll be able to have some conversation with some of the teachers at large and really get to kind of say where we are in our process. I feel like that face-to-face work might move some mountains tomorrow, so that’s great.”

The School Committee scheduled an additional meeting for Monday night. School is scheduled to reopen next Wednesday.

Committee members also discussed the procedures for closing school in the case of an outbreak, in a discussion led by Hopkinton health director Shaun McAuliffe.

Keeping children home when they are sick is a major way to reduce the risk of schools being closed due to COVID-19, he said.

“Our success is dependent on residents of Hopkinton communicating with their children,” he said. The schools have developed a “sound, safe plan, but it’s all dependent on making sure sick children stay home.”

Symptoms to be aware of include fever, cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, headache not in conjunction with other symptoms, fatigue not in conjunction with other symptoms, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, or nasal congestion (not due to known causes such as allergies) in conjunction with other symptoms.

“We don’t want people who are ill coming into our school environment,” he said.

A decision to close schools can only be made by the superintendent or by the governor, but would be decided based on communication with health officials, Cavanaugh said.

Making this decision is “an art” and not a science, committee chair Amanda Fargiano said. In addition to looking at the number of cases, the specifics behind the cases matter, McAuliffe added.

For example, he said, if five members of three families test positive, that would result in 15 cases, putting the town into the red category, which is the highest risk category based on a color-coded system developed by the state.

But if those 15 people are quarantined and have had no contact with the school community, that would represent a lower risk and might not automatically trigger a school closing.

If a student or staff member tests positive, the Hopkinton Health Department will be notified, and through a series of communications, contact tracing will begin to determine who may have been exposed and the length of that potential exposure.

That information will help determine the next steps.

If the town reaches the red designation, that doesn’t automatically trigger a closure, Cavanaugh said. The district might decide to “hang on a little bit” because that red status could improve quickly.

Closing an individual school or an entire district requires serious thought and discussion, Cavanaugh said, and the state would have to be notified. “We should not be opening and closing, opening and closing, willy nilly,” she said.

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