The Sandwich School District is taking another look at its plan to bring secondary students back into its buildings full-time as COVID-19 infections spike within the district and in neighboring districts.
The number of Sandwich students who are currently sick with the virus has reached a peak, resulting in one of the district’s preschool programs closing down for two weeks.
Superintendent Pamela A. Gould discussed her concerns with the school committee at its meeting on Wednesday, March 24.
In Sandwich, 21 students from 11 families are currently infected with the virus. Of those cases, four are at Sandwich High School, six are at the STEM Academy, five are at the Oak Ridge School and six are at the Forestdale School.
At Forestdale, a set of siblings being diagnosed means that the integrated preschool program had to shut down to allow all students and staff to quarantine. The program will reopen April 6.
In addition to the students who have the virus, 78 are quarantining due to being considered close contacts and six are awaiting test results.
Dr. Gould said there is currently no evidence of the virus spreading within the schools and that all of the infections can be traced to outside events.
While the numbers within the district are alarming, Dr. Gould also noted the increased rate of COVID-19 infections in Barnstable and Yarmouth. Those towns are seeing the highest case rates in the state with 7.49 percent and 5.88 percent respectively as of, March 18.
The same report shows Sandwich at 3.19 percent.
The state average is 1.83 percent.
“As we continue to understand what is happening in Barnstable and Dennis-Yarmouth, it’s not too far off from reaching us,” Dr. Gould said.
Health Agent David Mason and Fire Chief John J. Burke said the town will start to see the impact within about two weeks.
Dr. Gould said the health data are concerning, especially when the high school students will be coming back into the buildings with desks spaced three feet apart. This will automatically mean that if a student tests positive for the virus, every student sitting around the student, in every single class, will be considered a close contact and will have to quarantine.
She said that while she does not want students to become ill, her bigger concern is the disruption in education that the quarantines will cause.
A date has not yet been set at the state level for high school students to return, but Dr. Gould had planned on bringing them back in alongside the STEM Academy students starting April 26. The state is mandating that middle school students return to school buildings full time starting April 28.
However, Dr. Gould suggested that the district might want to consider applying for a waiver for the secondary level in light of the rising case numbers in the region.
Waiver applications for this level are due by April 12.
She said that the plan to bring the K-6 students back into the buildings will not be affected by the waiver if it is approved. Those students will still return full time April 5.
The school board did approve a revised calendar at the meeting. The calendar has students returning to the buildings five days each week starting on April 5 for grades kindergarten to 6 and April 26 for grades 7 to 12. The calendar allows for three Wednesday half-days for the elementary schools on April 7 for parent conferences, April 28 for a pre-planned professional development day, and May 12 to allow the schools to plan for classroom placement.
There will also be a half-day on June 17, which is slated to be the last day of school.
School committee Chairman Donald DiGiacomo said that if board members need to revise the calendar again to reflect any changes made to the high school reentry plan, they can.
More discussion on the subject is expected at the board’s meeting on April 7.