Since the Falmouth Public Schools reopened in September, seven students and one faculty member have tested positive for COVID-19.
There has been no transmission in school, Superintendent Lori S. Duerr told the Falmouth Select Board on Monday, November 23. “They have all originated outside of school. I have not needed to quarantine any classes or close any schools for any period of time.”
Describing the schools as “very fortunate,” Ms. Duerr said they are working to keep these numbers low.
The students who tested positive had not attended classes in school. Four were fully remote learners, while two students were hybrid learners who tested positive during their week of remote study. Although the seventh student to test positive was an in-person learner, the student was studying from home when they tested positive. The staff member who tested positive was also working from home.
Precautions were taken for the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Certainly, we’ve given the parents the option of moving to fully remote for 14 days after the holidays if they had any gatherings other than their immediate family,” Ms. Duerr said. “We have that option, and parents can take advantage of that. We just want to keep our schools open as long as possible.”
School committee chairwoman Kelly A. Welch said the majority of Falmouth students attend school in person at least some of the time. All students in pre-kindergarten to 4th grade are in person every day.
“Our littlest learners are getting exactly what they really need,” Ms. Welch said. “They are not going to do well on computers. They need to be in school.”
Fifth to 12th grade students follow a hybrid model, alternating between in-school and remote learning every week. Ms. Welch said high needs and vulnerable kids in special programs attend school daily. In addition, approximately 125 students who were identified by their teachers as struggling in the hybrid model transitioned to in-person learning to ensure they do not fall behind.
About 20 percent of all students, from kindergarten to 12th grade, have chosen to be fully remote, Ms. Welch said.
She noted that remote does not necessarily mean at-home learning. For 5th and 6th graders at the Morse Pond School, Falmouth Public Schools administrators set up a remote learning center with supervision within the school.
Ms. Welch said one reason students have been able to study in school is because of the town’s ongoing support of the schools. Consistent maintenance of the building’s HVAC systems allowed the schools to meet all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers guidance related to reopening.
The only building that did not meet these standards was the school administration building. High-efficiency particulate air filters were installed in the building, which remains open with a reduced in-person staff.
In addition, the HVAC systems within the schools were upgraded to include MERV 13 filters, the same filter used in healthcare settings.
“If we did not take care of things regularly, we could be in a different spot right now,” Ms. Welch said.
Staff is also working to continue extracurricular activities for Falmouth students. Ms. Duerr said the schools had a successful fall sports season.
“Students were just happy to be able to play,” she said. “It went very well. We did not have one case that rose up from playing any of the sports.”
Sports will continue into the winter season, with Falmouth Public Schools participating in the modified basketball and ice hockey programs. Tryouts are scheduled to begin around December 14.
“I think the kids will be really happy,” Ms. Duerr said. “We think, with the modifications, we’ll be able to follow the restrictions and the new gameplay, and be able to be successful and be safe with the sports. Sports are really important to our students.”
Board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga asked what extracurricular activities are available to Falmouth students. Ms. Duerr said marching band continued this year, conducting a virtual band performance.
“It wasn’t the same as doing halftimes during the football season, but they were able to be outside, safely distanced, and be able to perform,” she said.
The drama program is practicing for a performance, one that allows students to be safely socially distanced while performing on stage.
“I want kids to have as many opportunities as possible, but I want to make sure that we are safe,” Ms. Duerr said.
If an afterschool club could meet virtually, they have transitioned to a virtual model.
“Some of them just don’t lend themselves to a virtual setting, but we are pretty limited on any after-school activities,” she said.
Board member Douglas C. Brown asked what could be done to support Falmouth teachers.
“This whole thing must be really putting a lot of strain on the teachers themselves,” Mr. Brown said. “Is there anything that can be done to help give relief to them? How do you help them with all this extra workload?”
Ms. Duerr described the staff as an amazing group who have worked hard throughout the pandemic.
“I’ll tell you what keeps us going: looking at the students, when we get to see their faces,” she said. “This is what we’re in it for, and it keeps us going.”
In addition to school staff, the Volunteers In Public Schools and Falmouth Education Foundation received shout-outs for their ongoing efforts.