Tuesday night (Aug. 31), the Andover Board of Education voted to require all staff, students and visitors at our elementary schools to wear face coverings. This temporary requirement begins Friday, Sept. 3, and runs through Tuesday, Oct. 12. This decision is in response to rising Covid positive cases and student quarantines in our district, particularly at the elementary level.
The Board did not require face coverings for students, staff or visitors in middle or high school at this time. Board members made the commitment to continue reviewing Covid data and will revisit this decision if they determine it is necessary.
Exclusions to the mask requirement would include children under the age of 2 years old, persons with a medical condition or disability that prevents the wearing of a face covering, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, or those working with the deaf or hard of hearing, persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to that person related to their work, and athletes who are engaged in an organized sports activity with incidental contact with others.
We will be creating a link on www.usd385.org/covid with Q&As for this mask requirement and other Covid-related information as it relates to the 2021-22 school year. If you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer it.
Specifically, the data that led to this decision included:
- For the week ending 8/27/21, Andover Public Schools had double the number of student positive cases as the prior week. For the week that ended last Friday, we had 38 student cases, up from 19 the previous week. Of those 38 positive cases, 24 were at the elementary level, which is double the prior week. Likewise, middle school and high school student positive cases also doubled from the previous week.
- For the weeks ending 8/20/21 & 8/27/21, we have had a total of 36 positive cases among elementary students. All of last school year, we had a total of 107 positive cases among elementary students, so we have had more than a third of the total number of elementary positive cases after only two weeks.
- During this two-week period, 175 elementary students have been in quarantine as a result of potential exposure as a close contact of a positive case.
- This year we are seeing some of the close contacts convert to positive cases, which is very different from last year, when the conversion was a rarity. Two key differences this year are the delta variant and the lack of required face coverings in schools.
- Districtwide for the weeks ending 8/20/21 & 8/27/21, we have had 332 total students in quarantine. The increase from the week of 8/20/21 to 8/27/21 was 60 students, which is a 44 percent increase week-over-week.
- Positive cases at the middle and high school often result in a large number of close contacts, because students switch classes each period and have many different students sitting next to them throughout the day. Assisting the county health departments in identifying close contacts is extremely time-consuming for our principals and health staff. However, it is an important part of the process so that infectious disease does not potentially spread in schools.
- We are experiencing disruptions to learning environments due to Covid-19 cases and quarantines. In one of our elementary schools, over 13% of students are either isolating due to a positive result, in quarantine from potential exposure as a close contact, or testing daily with the Stay to Learn option. At that school, seven classrooms have more than five students in isolation or quarantine. At a different elementary, two classrooms have had positive cases and quarantines that impacted eight students in each room.
- Our community Covid-19 data is at elevated levels. Hospitals are very near or at capacity, and medical staff are stretched very thin. In many cases, patients are having to be transported to other states to receive care.
- Continued increases in spread within our schools could have significant impacts to classrooms and schools. You may have read about districts in our state and country that have had temporary closures due to Covid-19 cases. The last thing we want to consider is temporarily closing schools, which would be detrimental for students’ education and would result in the cancellation of student athletic events and activities during the time of closure. A temporary school closure would also impact our district calendar. Those student contact days would need to be made up. Options could include adjusting the length of scheduled breaks or adding those days in May, which could extend the school year past Memorial Day. Fortunately, we are not at that point, and it’s our responsibility to make sure that we adjust Covid-19 protocols as needed during this spike in data to ensure that our school year operates as scheduled.
Any of the recommendations to our Board of Education to either tighten or loosen Covid-19 protocols this year will include specific dates. We will do this because our commitment is to make recommendations in alignment with data, and to revisit those in an ongoing manner. We will need to be responsive to changing data and circumstances.