Schools preparing to respond to COVID-19 as new year approaches

This upcoming school year will mark the third that students and staff will contend with COVID-19 in the classroom.
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 9:36 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - This upcoming school year will mark the third that students and staff will contend with COVID-19 in the classroom.

“We’re trying to find the right balance of like minimizing disruptions and finding the right levels of comfort,” said Modesto Montero, executive director of Libertas Academy Charter School.

Montero said his team is ready to welcome kids back to school with fewer COVID-19 restrictions in place.

“People don’t want to wear a mask. They don’t want to deal with having to quarantine if they’ve been exposed and yet, we know that this virus is still impacting our community and we need to keep our community safe,” Montero noted.

Under DESE and Mass. DPH guidelines, there is no longer a mask mandate in schools except in health offices, no contact tracing, and no asymptomatic surveillance testing. Those exposed to COVID-19 who have no symptoms no longer need to quarantine, regardless of vaccination status.

“If there is an exposure, we are still asking our students and our staff to come into the building, they would just have to wear a mask. If they have been exposed and you test positive, you’re quarantining at home per the CDC guidance,” Montero explained.

Children and staff who test positive must isolate for at least five days. Rapid antigen tests are preferred over PCR tests, but the statewide testing program ended in the spring.

“Unfortunately, it’s coming out of pocket for schools this year. Last year, the state provided that, so we were testing for anything and everything. Now, we just have to be more conscientious of the limited resources that are out there,” Modesto added.

Only those with symptoms will be given a rapid test at school. Dr. John Kelley at Redwood Pediatrics told Western Mass News he agrees the guidance.

“You know, this is a disease that we’re going to be living with, but it’s something we still have to pay attention to and screen for and look for,” Kelley noted.

He said vaccination is still the best way to keep your child safe, though he acknowledges it doesn’t always prevent infection.

“…But what it does do is give you reassurance that your child is not going to get seriously ill, even though that’s a rare thing for children. With a vaccine, you can pretty much guarantee, as best we can in medicine, guarantee they’re not going to get seriously ill,” Kelley added.

Libertas Academy’s COVID-19 task force remains in place and will closely watch transmission rates in the community. Protocols will evolve if there’s another surge.

“If there’s an uptick in COVID cases, we do have protocols in place to make sure that we’re mitigating any sort of spread. Masks are definitely going to be a thing,” said Yessenia Stoff, a ninth grade teacher at Libertas Academy Charter School.

Stoff said she hopes it doesn’t come to that as educators are looking forward to building close connections with students.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing kiddo smiles. That is like the biggest thing is just the whole face and being able to see expression,” Stoff noted.

“I think COVID put a lot of limitations right on our simple interactions, so I’m super excited to get reconnected with kids,” said Libertas Academy Charter School enrichment teacher Alexander Lugo.

After dealing with ever-changing COVID-19 guidance over the past several years, Montero said he’s confident Libertas can strike the right balance between effective learning and student safety.

“There are a lot of unknowns and it feels like the world and specifically, in America, people are ready to move on from COVID even though COVID is not ready to move on from us,” Montero said.