As Cases Surge, School Return Conversation Pushed to January

At one time, the Everett Public Schools had hoped to be in a hybrid education model by Nov. 30, but that’s been scrapped as COVID-19 cases have surged in a “second wave,” with the possibility of a hybrid now being in February.

Supt. Priya Tahiliani briefed the School Committee on Monday night at the regular meeting about the plan to return to school, and the fact that cases are just too high right now to even begin the conversation.

She said they hope to now have that conversation in January, with a potential hybrid school model rolling out in February.

“As a district, we are planning on bringing back as many students as we can as soon as we can but before we can do that we do need to experience a demonstrative and sustained flattening of cases,” she said. “So this means we will not be able to revisit the conversation regarding going to a large-scale hybrid model. We want to revisit it in at least the second week of January. In the meantime, we just want to emphasize and re-emphasize health and safety and the role we all play in bringing this pandemic under control, especially in the coming holidays…Our plan is to begin is to return to a conversation about returning to school after the holidays with a hope of starting a hybrid model in February. I feel this is neither too ambitious or too cautious.”

At the same time, she said they wanted to begin to bring back more children who are vulnerable and are in the CTE vocational program as well. That will include the use of a new rapid test system that the district has procured for free from the state and federal governments.

Tahiliani said they will be using the BinaxNOW Rapid Test in the schools, which will be administered by a third party known as Project Beacon. The tests shipped on Dec. 8, and there will be a live training with them on Dec. 11.

As we explore ways to best bring back more students for teaching and learning, the district is looking to use the BinaxNOW Rapid Testing, which comes free of charge,” she said.

That test gives a result in 15 minutes and was shown in testing at Lawrence General Hospital to have a 98 percent sensitivity rate. Students and staff who are in the building and show symptoms will be given the tests on the spot. A positive test would mean they immediately go home and contract tracing would begin. Even if there is a negative test, and one has a symptom, they would be sent home and asked to get a traditional COVID test.

Right now there are fewer than 100 high-needs students in the schools, but that could change.

Just how that decision would be made has been in the hands of the Health Advisory Working Group that has consulted the Everett Public Schools for several months.

One of the key metrics will be the positivity rate in the city. That will need to go down to at least 3 or 4 percent for four weeks in order to consider bringing kids into any buildings, she said.

“We are currently at 8.39 percent and we’re looking to be in the we would want to see that for several weeks between 3-5 percent,” she said.

The ideal metric for returning would be to have a rate of 5 percent, preferably 3 percent, for three or four weeks.

“The lack of firm dates does not mean a lack of a plan,” she said.

Other metrics include equipped schools, robust processes (such as testing and contract tracing) and external factors in the community.

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