The impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt in Hopkinton Public Schools. At Thursday’s School Committee meeting, Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh reported the number of students and staff with COVID at each school as follows: 19 students and six staff at Marathon, six students and one staff at Elmwood, 64 students and six staff at Hopkins, 35 students and five staff at the middle school, and 54 students and eight staff at the high school.
Because of the “great uptick,” Cavanaugh said the district had to reschedule MCAS and AP testing for “literally hundreds of students” and “experienced a critical shortage of faculty, staff and substitute teachers.”
The numbers, from May 4-11, put the schools in a situation where they had to move people around if substitute teachers could not be found.
“It’s been very challenging,” Cavanaugh said.
In answer to a question by School Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty, the superintendent said the absence of eight teachers at the high school, for example, would mean 40 classes per day are affected.
She said it’s possible a student could have more than one teacher out per day while another might not see a change. Either way, the shortage has been very disruptive, Cavanaugh said.
Carryover vacation days approved
Later in the meeting, Cavanaugh asked that administrators be allowed to carry over a total of 15 vacation days from a previous year. This practice, for 2022-23, means an additional five days over last year’s carryover allowance.
The superintendent explained that administrators have a total of 25 vacation days. However, because of COVID-19, many individuals did not take time off because of staffing shortages and other concerns.
Some have done things like serve lunches, cover classes and other tasks because of shortages, said School Committee Vice Chair Amanda Fargiano.
Chair Nancy Cavanaugh pointed out that it was thought this year would be easier, but ultimately, “It wasn’t all smooth sailing.”
She said the extra carryover days are a good idea and a way the board could show its appreciation. The chair added that she hoped the administrators could use their time to recharge and avoid burnout.
Batlle-Rafferty also encouraged the administrators to take time off. She said the district is very worried about the mental health of students and allows them downtime and breaks, and she feels the adults should have the same options.
“No one will hold it against them,” she said. “I hope they use their time moving forward so they don’t burn out.”
Nature’s Classroom trips approved
The committee also approved a request for Grade 6 and Grade 7 students to travel to Freedom, New Hampshire, for the Nature’s Classroom program. Two Grade 7 groups would go on Oct. 17-19 and Oct. 19-21. The sixth-graders would make the trips Nov. 14-16 and Nov. 16-18, according to Assistant Principal Christopher Ocampo.
The program allows students to go on hikes, explore the wilderness and learn about the natural world through team-building games. Classes are offered to learn about topics like rivers, plants, birds, insects, mammals, archery and more.
Ocampo said the cost is $305 per student, and accommodations will be made for students who need financial support.
The location was moved from Charlton because the New Hampshire site can accept larger numbers of children. COVID restrictions at the previous site also changed it a lot, he said.
He added he was sure the kids would love the experience, as he has fond memories of his own participation.
Scholarship, stipends supported
In other business, the committee approved establishment of the Annette Joyce Flohr Memorial Scholarship in the amount of $500.
Members also voted to pay $2,000 per stipend to 16 varsity assistant coaches whose positions are unpaid or rely on fundraising at present. The money will come out of the athletic revolving fund for the 2022-23 year.
Superintendent Cavanaugh said that 13 varsity teams have paid assistant coaches and this approval would level the playing field for the others.
She also said having volunteers opens up the district to possible liability if something should happen. Cavanaugh said the athletic director would determine where assistant coaches are warranted.