THE SCHOOL SYSTEM’S 14 new educators attended the New Teacher Orientation Program at the Central Office on Tuesday, Aug. 24. (Dan Tomasello Photo)
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — The clock is ticking until summer vacation ends and a new school year begins.
Students in preschool through grade 12 will be returning to the classroom on Wednesday, Sept. 1. There will be an early release day for professional development on Friday, Sept. 3. All four schools will be closed on Monday, Sept. 6 and Tuesday, Sept. 7 due to the Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah holidays.
School officials, teachers and staff members having been spending this week making sure everything is ready to rock and roll for students’ return next week. Custodians have also been making a final push to make sure each of the town’s four schools is in pristine condition when students return.
“We are so excited to have all of our students return for full in-person school, five days a week starting on Sept. 1,” stated Superintendent Kristen Vogel in an email sent to parents. “There is much excitement and energy that comes with this time of the year.”
Due to rising COVID-19 cases in town, the Board of Health, School Committee and Select Board voted last week to implement a mask mandate for municipal buildings, including schools, during a joint Aug. 18 meeting (see separate story). The vote took place two days before Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Jeff Riley announced he would be seeking the authority to mandate that students, staff and educators in public schools to wear masks indoors through at least Friday, Oct. 1. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was slated to vote on the proposal on Tuesday, Aug. 24, taking place after deadline.
“As a result of the Lynnfield Board of Health regulation and vote of both the Select Board and School Committee, all persons age 3 years and older, including students, staff and visitors, are required to be masked when indoors in our school buildings,” stated Vogel. “When outdoors, students, staff and visitors do not need to be masked. Individuals with medical or behavioral needs may request an exception with a medical note from a physician. We will continue to monitor our local COVID-19 data in consultation with the town Emergency Management Team and Board of Health.”
Students will also be required to wear masks on school buses as mandated by a federal order issued by President Joe Biden this past January.
According to data released by the School Department, 72 percent of Lynnfield High School students are fully vaccinated. The data revealed that 84 percent of rising freshmen, 64 percent of rising sophomores, 72 percent of rising juniors and 66 percent of rising seniors have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The data also revealed that 54 percent of Lynnfield Middle School students are fully vaccinated, which includes 48 percent of incoming seventh-graders and 60 percent of incoming eighth-graders.
“We expect and hope to see higher vaccination numbers for all eligible students moving forward,” stated Vogel. “We also look forward to the opportunity for our students under the age of 12 to be vaccinated. If your child is eligible to be vaccinated, in accordance with CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, Massachusetts Department of Public Health and DESE recommendations, we strongly encourage that you do so, as it is the greatest weapon we have against preventing the severe disease from COVID-19 and preventing its spread within our school community.”
While students and staff will be required to wear masks inside school buildings for at least the start of the academic year, Vogel stated that social distancing will not be utilized this year. She also noted that each classroom has Medify Air Purifiers that were purchased last year.
“These air purifiers were recommended by the Harvard School of Public Health,” stated Vogel.
All four schools will be requiring students and staff members to wash their hands frequently. The School Department and DPW will continue utilizing the cleaning protocols that were implemented last year.
Vogel stated that any student or staff member who has COVID-19 symptoms have to stay home and get tested.
“Please inform your child’s building principal or Nurse Coordinator Toni Rebelo at firstname.lastname@example.org of a positive test result immediately,” stated Vogel. “A positive student must remain home from school and school activities, and isolate for at least 10 days from either their symptom start date or, if no symptoms, from the date of their positive test, per CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health requirements. Students and families should work with their principal, guidance counselors and teachers on how to best access their schoolwork for the time they are out of school.”
Vogel noted that the School Department will be participating in two of DESE’s diagnostic testing programs this year. She said “Symptomatic Testing” is designed for individuals who have novel coronavirus symptoms while at school.
“Individuals should not go to school if they are experiencing symptoms while at home,” said Vogel. “Shallow nasal swab samples will be collected at school using the BinaxNOW rapid antigen test.”
As part of the “Test and Stay” program for close contact testing, Vogel said, “Shallow nasal swab samples will be collected at school using the BinaxNOW rapid antigen test.”
“Tests are administered daily from the first day of exposure for seven days,” said Vogel.
Vogel stated that Lynnfield High School sports as well as extracurricular activities at the secondary schools will be offered this year.
“It is our plan to run a normal high school athletic program as well as extra curricular activities at both the high school and middle school,” stated Vogel. “If the students are meeting indoors, then masking will be required. If the activity occurs outside, there will be no masking requirement. Students traveling on a bus for either athletics or extracurricular activities will be required to wear a mask per the federal order.”
Vogel urged the community to remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, the global pandemic is not going away anytime soon and we will continue to be challenged in the upcoming year,” said Vogel. “We faced many challenges last year as a community and worked together to prioritize student and staff safety while educating our students. We also recognize that 18 months of COVID-19 rules and restrictions feel burdensome and never-ending. Many of us would like to lose the masks and return to normal as quickly as possible. We will get there eventually, but it is going to take more time.”
School Committee Chairman Rich Sjoberg agreed.
“We are one Lynnfield and we all need to hear and heed to the advice of our experts,” said Sjoberg in an email sent to the Villager. “We need to, based on the expert opinions and recommendations, do what is reasonable and safe for all Lynnfield students.”
In addition to implementing certain COVID-19 safety protocols once again this year, the School Department is also working on several other initiatives. The district is still in the midst of a fundraising drive for a classroom assistance dog. The School Department has raised $5,933 out of the $8,000 needed in order to get the dog from NEADS World Class Service Dogs.
The School Department will also be continuing its social-emotional learning and school security initiatives.