Published December 9, 2020
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Students in the town’s secondary schools are learning remotely this week due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Superintendent Kristen Vogel made the announcement in a letter sent to families on Friday, Dec. 4. She sent the letter two days after the entire school system was forced to go remote at the end of last week.
According to the Emergency Management Team, there are currently 129 active cases of the novel coronavirus as of Monday, Dec. 7. There have been 393 total cases since the start of the pandemic and 249 people have recovered from the virus. Fifteen residents have died from COVID-19.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is still classifying Lynnfield as a “yellow” community even though COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in town.
“Over the last seven days, we have had 99 cases,” said Town Administrator Rob Dolan during Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting. “The post holiday surge is happening at a rapid pace.”
Vogel said Lynnfield Middle School students were forced to learn remotely this week due to an “identified cluster of positive cases and close contacts in grade 5.” She said 15 staff members are currently following the district’s COVID-19 protocols and are “not able to be at school” because they are either quarantining, are close contacts, are waiting for test results or have tested positive for the virus.
During an emergency School Committee meeting on Dec. 2, Vogel said the LMS cluster resulted in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s decision to send a Mobile Response Testing Unit to the middle school on Monday. She noted that LMS is the first school in the commonwealth that used the testing unit.
In response to a question from School Committee Vice Chairman Rich Sjoberg, Vogel said the Massachusetts Department of Public Health made the decision to send the Mobile Response Testing Unit to LMS after she provided local data to them. She said identified fifth grade students and staff members were tested in the “optional” program.
School Committee Chairman Jamie Hayman noted that Town Administrator Rob Dolan told him “the state doesn’t send this unit out if they don’t believe there is a cluster.”
Vogel stated in the letter sent to parents that Lynnfield High School students are learning remotely this week as well because a student who tested positive for the novel coronavirus attended a party with other students over Thanksgiving break.
“The number of students and families who have been exposed to the virus puts the health and safety of the high school students and staff at risk,” Vogel stated.
While students in the secondary schools are learning remotely, both elementary schools are open under the district’s current hybrid model this week.
Vogel made the decision to close all four schools and implement remote learning at the end of last week after seven people in the district tested positive for COVID-19 in a five-day period.
“Since March of 2020, all of the planning for the school system in response to this pandemic has been based on a shared community commitment to promote the health and well-being of everyone,” said Vogel during the School Committee’s emergency meeting. “What worries me as the leader of the school district is that the community is not adhering to the commitments we made to keep everyone safe and healthy. The health and safety of our students and staff is our number one priority.”
In addition to the LMS cluster and the LHS party, Vogel told the School Committee she was forced to close both elementary schools last week because there were some parents who told her and COVID-19 Liaison Toni Rebelo they were going to “ignore” the district’s quarantine rules and would be “sending their children to school” despite traveling over Thanksgiving break.
“We have put all of these policies and procedures in place to keep everyone safe, but when the community is not complying and not adhering to those expectations, we are forced to make decisions that have significant consequences for kids,” said Vogel. “It’s wrong and it’s unacceptable. We are going to continue being put in this position if this continues.”
Rebelo said elementary school children who traveled over Thanksgiving break came into school “without following our procedures or telling us they traveled.”
“We happened to find out from different ways, including students telling us,” said Rebelo. “That puts people in the building at risk. We have had people come back from traveling who tested negative when they left and have tested positive when they came back.”
Sjoberg urged families to follow both the state’s guidelines as well as the school system’s rules.
“Please pay attention and we will all get through this together,” said Sjoberg.
Hayman said the situation is incredibly frustrating for school officials.
“We are trying everything we can to get our kids back into school, which is where they need to be right now,” said Hayman. “We hear it loud and clear that this is not sustainable for kids, families and teachers. Whether you agree with the protocols or the response to the virus, this is the world that we live in and this is the consequence for not following the rules. We don’t make the rules, the virus does.”
Hayman pleaded with the community to get the number of COVID-19 cases down so more in-person learning can take place in the new year.
“If we are doing the right things, it will increase the likelihood that we can get back to in-person learning and increase in-person learning,” said Hayman.
Vogel thanked Rebelo for “the amount of work she is putting in for this district.”
“Toni has been extraordinary in trying to keep everyone safe and healthy,” said Vogel. “We couldn’t do it without her.”