Third COVID case at Powder Mill School causes switch to remote classes

Students at Powder Mill will learn remotely at least through the end of the month

SOUTHWICK – Three positive COVID cases in just over a week at Powder Mill School have caused students there to be fully remote until at least Nov. 30.

Superintendent Jennifer Willard alerted families Nov. 8 via email that the cases could have been transmitted in the school.

Willard stated that “school related transmission cannot be ruled out. Because of this, Powder Mill School will remain in a full-remote learning status until at least November 30, 2020. An update on reopening of all schools will be released as soon as more information is available.”

Two of the cases were reported after Gov. Charlie Baker announced new COVID-19 guidelines and encouraged all schools to open for in-person learning because the virus is not easily spread in schools. The state also updated its criteria for high-risk communities late last week. Southwick, Tolland and Granville have remained low-risk areas throughout the pandemic.

Willard wrote that she requested that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health send a mobile testing unit to the school.

“Only children in the same classroom as affected individuals would be eligible for testing,” Willard said. “If the state approves a mobile unit for our school, the families of eligible students will be contacted separately.”

The announcement came the first day that the entire Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District temporarily switched to full remote learning while a memorandum of understanding with the teacher’s union was being renegotiated. The current agreement calls for the switch to remote learning when the COVID-19 positivity rate in Hampden County rises above 3%. A new agreement that considers the rates in the district is in the works.

Willard told families that health is the priority.
“Our first responsibility is to keep our students and staff safe. As stated in previous correspondence, we have been planning for this scenario during our reopening planning process and have a comprehensive plan in place to sanitize the school, inform families whose students were at risk of exposure or in close contact, and support the affected families as they navigate this stressful experience,” she wrote. “Our student body and staff have been closely adhering to the safety protocols including mask wearing, hand washing, and physical distancing. We are grateful to our families for their continued efforts to keep students home at the first sign of symptoms. These measures, taken in combination, greatly reduce the risk of additional transmission.”
Details of the cases could not be shared, however Willard said families of students that were in close contact with those who tested positive were notified.
“All close contacts should be tested but must self-quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure to the person who tested positive, regardless of test result. We are also following all Department of Health protocols, including collaborating with our local board of health to complete contact tracing,” wrote Willard. “Additionally, we are asking those parents whose students are tested for COVID-19 to please report the results to the school nurse. We are working hard to understand the impact of the virus on our school community and this information is a critical piece of that puzzle.”

Powder Mill School was sanitized with a focus on the areas frequented by the infected community members.
“We will continue to be vigilant in adhering to all of the protocols that have been put in place in an effort to return to in-person learning,” said Willard. “We will continue to provide remote learning for all students required to quarantine at home to continue to provide instruction, structure, and an emotional connection to the classroom during a time that we know will be challenging for those children and families involved.”


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