Superintendent explains closing to School Committee: ‘We decided to err on the side of caution’

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The decision to close schools Tuesday and Wednesday after two high school students tested positive for COVID-19 allowed necessary time for contact tracing, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh told members of the Hopkinton School Committee at its Thursday meeting.

“There was the potential for many close contacts” to the affected students, she said. High school students attend seven classes and could have 28 close contacts in one classroom alone.

Representatives from the Department of Public Health advised students of all ages with high school siblings not to attend school, which helped “trigger the decision” to close school, Cavanaugh said. “We decided to err on the side of caution,” she stated.

Students could lose as many three days of in-person instruction during the 14 days of quarantine, and this could lead to losing “an awful lot of ground,” she said.

Teachers have the autonomy to share information with quarantined students through various methods, including Zoom, email, Schoology, video and after-school Telehelp.

Teachers are “very, very willing” to ensure quarantined students “make effective progress,” Cavanaugh said. Teachers will be “attentive and empathetic” to the students.

Elementary schools could be in a different position if positive cases were determined there, Cavanaugh noted. Because the entire cohort is together much of the day, all students likely would be considered close contacts and would be quarantined. This would result in teachers working with all students remotely.

“That would never work at the high school level,” she said, because students attend multiple classes with different students.

Timing was also part of the issue. With notification of one of the cases on Monday evening, after the end of the school day, time was needed to procure class lists and make the necessary specific notifications.

Committee chair Amanda Fargiano said closing the schools was a “good preventative measure” to allow for contact tracing. This “avoided further shutdown.”

In other news from the School Committee meeting, principals presented goals for their respective schools.

The shared goals of Marathon and Elmwood Schools are:

1. Social-emotional learning: Students and staff will “continue to grow the competencies of social-emotional wellness and further commit themselves to a socially just community.”

2. Literacy: “Provide opportunities for students to acquire, develop and apply broader literacy skills across curriculum throughout the day.”

3. Math: Continue to work on “the development of digital lessons and differentiated instruction.”

Hopkins School goals:

1. Social-emotional learning: “A safe and inclusive learning environment will be fostered that emphasizes respect and diversity.”

2. Literacy: “Align literacy/readers workshop curriculum with instructional practices and provide varied assessment opportunities.”

3. Math: “Assure each student is supported and challenged to achieve and grow.”

Hopkinton Middle School goals:

1: Consider the changing needs of the building in terms of enrollment growth. Ensure that “building and personnel needs are responsive to enrollment growth and student needs.”

2: Diversity and equity inclusion: “Create an academic and social culture that advances and embraces diversity.”

3: Student engagement: Aim is for “students to feel a greater connection to and investment in their academics, their classroom and our school.”

Hopkinton High School goals:

1. Vision of graduate: “Build individual habits of success — advanced communications skills, exploration and risk-taking, independent thinking and perseverance — to inspire passionate leaders with growth mindsets.”

2. Social-emotional learning: “Invest in social-emotional, behavioral and physical wellness and graduate well-balanced students.”

3. Enrollment growth planning: “Plan for human resources, facility and equipment needs and account for” the “growth in student population.”

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