The Halifax Board of Selectmen held their weekly meeting with public safety officials on Wednesday, July 22 to discuss COVID-19 related issues. Much of the meeting was spent discussing the difficulties surrounding reopening of the schools in the fall.
Selectman Gordon Andrews is part of one of the working groups that has been established to brainstorm ideas for reopening the schools. The working groups include teachers, nurses, counselors, etc. Andrews told those assembled that he would like their opinions so that he might take them back to the group.
Andrews said that guidelines regarding distancing on buses allow for only 25 passengers on a 77-person bus or 15 passengers on a 47-person bus. The only exception would be for siblings who could share a seat.
While official feedback from the surveys hadn’t been made available as of the meeting, Andrews said that initial feedback he was hearing was that roughly fifty percent of parents anticipated dropping their children off rather than electing to take the bus.
With only one-third of students potentially being able to be bused to school, there will have to be a significant increase in students that are being dropped off and picked up which could create a bottleneck. Possible suggestions offered at Wednesday’s meeting included changing the location of where the buses drop off and expanding the library parking lot for staff parking to open other areas for parent drop-off.
Board of Health agent Robert Valery met with head custodian Matt Durkee at the Halifax Elementary School to talk about a plan for lunch. “I think it was a good meeting that brought out a lot of good ideas,” Fire Chief Jason Viveiros told the selectmen.
One possibility is to use both the cafeteria and the all-purpose room for lunch. Students would have assigned seats and lunch would likely be brought directly to them. Another possible suggestion was to have someone who sprays sanitizer onto the kids’ hands as they enter the rooms for eating. The plan would be for the first shift of students to eat in one room and the next shift, the other. This would allow for rooms to be disinfected in between shifts.
In addition to transportation and cafeteria plans, those assembled also discussed pros and cons of both COVID testing prior to the start of school and regular temperature checks once school is in session. Viveiros mentioned the invasive nature of the COVID tests, particularly for young children.
Several of those present felt that temperature checks made sense though when to do them and how to ensure privacy were of concern. One suggestion was to check temperatures on the bus though the majority of students would not be able to ride the bus with capacity limited to one-third. Someone suggested doing temperature checks at drop-off while the parents are still present but that would likely complicate an already prolonged process.
Other questions involved how best to handle a situation where a student did produce a high reading. How would that student be removed without an invasion of privacy? Would students that had been in close contact with them also need to be sent home? “There are no good answers to any of this,” Selectman Tom Millias bemoaned.
Perhaps the most difficult question of all was whether schools should even reopen for in person learning. Andrews said that he felt that regardless of whatever decision is made, fifty percent of parents were likely to be unhappy. He said he felt that most people fell into one of two camps – those wishing to return to some sense of normalcy and those concerned with a potential outbreak in the schools.
He admitted to being confused himself saying, “There’s the part of me that says we should go back – we need to deal with it. There’s another part of me that says the logistics are so hard to understand does it make more sense to just plan for remote at this time?”
Valery said he felt that school should begin remotely as it will be difficult, if not impossible, to decipher COVID symptoms in students or teachers from more run of the mill viruses and infections that typically circulate once students are back in school. Both Viveiros and Andrews asked what the protocol would be if a teacher or student tested positive for the virus.
Valery pointed out that decisions would have to wait until test results were received. He also said that steps might depend on the kind and length of contact others had with the infected individual. If that student used the bathroom at some point, the potential for contamination would extend beyond the classroom or bus. “If you have a confirmed case in the school, you should probably be looking at closing down the school for 14 days,” Andrews said.
Andrews told the group that a preschool teacher in his working group pointed out the potential difficulty of trying to teach speech to young children who are not able to see their teachers’ mouths. A stumbling block for remote learning that was also mentioned was that at the time of the first shutdown, both teachers and and students were already familiar with one another. If school were to start remotely, students and teachers will be working with one another without that pre-established connection.
Of reopening, Viveiros said, “I don’t see how all of this could possibly get done.” He went on to say that some states have postponed the opening of schools until October to allow more time to prepare. Millias probably summed it up best saying, “this is just a pure horror show.”
In non-school related news, Valery told the Board that he had been notified that morning of one contact case of COVID in town though it was not confirmed. Valery also updated the Board on some local restaurants plans. Grille 58 planned to open on July 28 with tents setup in a small area outside for outdoor dining. Rodney’s Kitchen also planned to open for outdoor dining.