Southwick district school buildings remain closed another week

SOUTHWICK – Students at Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional schools will remain learning remotely next week.

Superintendent Jennifer Willard made the announcement Nov. 24 during a special Regional School Committee meeting. Willard also presented the amended Memorandum of Agreement with the teachers’ union which updates the criteria that would trigger school closings due to COVID-19.

A screenshot of the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District agreement with the teacher and paraprofessional union.

Two of those criteria continue to be met – that the Hampden County positivity rate is over 5% and that at least one of the three district communities is “red” on the state COVID map – causing schools to remain closed for in-person learning until at least Dec. 7.

The original MOA with the union called for closure of district schools when Hampden County positivity rates hit 3%. The new agreement has a 5% threshold. Willard said keeping the Hampden County rates in the MOA was important because district staff live throughout the region.

Hampden County, as of press time, was at 5.55% positivity. Southwick was in the red last week with a positivity rate of 5.67%.

“Southwick was in the red for the first time last week,” said Willard, “and I spoke to the public health nurse today and she believes we will be well in the red again this week.”

Willard said at least two of the new criteria outlined in the MOA must be met to pivot to remote learning. However, she also said there are instances when some classrooms or special programs could remain in-person if there are zero COVID cases in those rooms or programs even if two criteria are met.

Willard said she would continue to meet regularly with the public health nurse, Southwick Health Director Tammy Spencer and others. She said the group retains the right to close schools. “If something happens and as a group we feel it’s in the best interest of the district to close, we will do that,” she said.

Willard said the new MOA keeps her top priority at the forefront – safety and health of all staff and students.

“As much as I believe there is nothing that can replace in-person learning, I’ve seen our teachers go above and beyond,” Willard said. “I know they’re giving it their all and miss their kids terribly.”

Willard said she hopes to return students to school buildings soon.

“The trend we’re seeing right now is a sharp increase in COVID in our communities – it’s not the news we want to hear,” she said. “It weighs on me.”

Willard said the decision to keep buildings closed at least another week was based on “data and trends” and that she had to put “what I want aside” for “what I feel is safe.”

Willard then urged everyone to continue to practice social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks. She said that although families want to spend time together at the holidays, she hoped everyone would limit gatherings.

Willard noted there was what could be considered a cluster of COVID cases at Powder Mill School. She also noted that updates positivity rates every Wednesday, adding that rates are based on population so a small community with a few cases could have a higher rate than a large community with more cases.

Willard said the district COVID numbers are posted on the site weekly and she would add a Hampden County rate at the request of School Committee member Jonathan Schantz. She said the unions were very cooperative in creating a new MOA that better reflects the data available today.

“I want to thank the teachers and paraprofessionals for putting their trust in us that we will do the right thing,” she said.


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