Dear Members of the Weston School Community,
At last Monday’s School Committee meeting, I recommended that the Weston School Committee vote to shift away from the current mitigation strategy and adopt less restrictive measures to move forward safely. With advances in science surrounding and medical management of COVID-19 over the past two years, including increasing access to vaccination and testing, we no longer need to rely so heavily on these stringent measures. As a district we remain committed to educating the whole student, with a commitment to 180 days of in-person instruction for as many students as possible, while continuously evaluating our safety practices to ensure they are effective in the least restrictive way possible. This recommendation was not taken lightly and takes into consideration the needs of the entire community and the whole student, knowing the school community consists of individuals and families representing a broad spectrum of needs physically, emotionally, and mentally. More importantly, given the resources and knowledge of the community, I am confident we can do this safely.
Shifting from Mitigation to Recovery
We have reached a critical juncture in the pandemic where we are shifting from the initial phase of investigation, discovery, and mitigation toward one of management and recovery. As a community we successfully came together to ensure the students and staff of Weston Public Schools were able to hold school, in-person, for as many days as possible. As a community we endured very stringent mitigation measures that were put in place to provide for as much safety as possible while students were attending in-person school. We implemented these measures in an effort to shield our community from the torrid effects of a novel virus, the likes of which many of us have never experienced in our lifetimes. For many this shift was difficult, for some this shift was easy, but for all this shift was necessary. Necessary to allow for students, staff, and families to maintain some semblance of connection through our schools.
Over the past year we have witnessed the mental health effects of prolonged isolation consume the minds and spirits of our children and ourselves. Physical distancing, masking, and isolation, while proven effective in mitigating transmission of COVID-19, have manifested, in many cases, a negative impact on the mental health of our children. We must now rally and focus our efforts on instilling hope and reducing fear in our children. We have the tools necessary to do this well. The first step is reintroduction through removal of the barriers of isolation that we have relied upon for the past two years. We value and plan to collaborate with the Weston Board of Health toward recovery.
Moving to a Mask-optional Environment
We mitigate COVID very well in Weston. We are fortunate to have resources and access that allowed our schools to remain in session for most of the past two years. It was asked at the school committee meeting on February 3rd, “If Omicron showed up today, what measures would you put in place?” My answer is this – Omicron is now, and we can and should try to safely move forward with lifting restrictions while continuing to monitor testing data and community trends. Should another variant arise that presents with increased morbidity and mortality regardless of vaccination and basic mitigation, we would escalate our mitigation measures, in the least restrictive way possible and as necessary, to ensure the safety of all students.
We continue to encourage vaccination, weekly participation in testing platforms, and continued support with remaining home and seeking testing when sick. This sustained commitment is necessary and greatly appreciated. As has been the case throughout this pandemic, we will reevaluate changes on a bi-weekly basis and as needed, and make any subsequent shifts whenever necessary.
What does the mask-optional environment look like?
- Any school which has reached the 80% vaccination threshold and has successfully applied for and received a waiver from DESE will be mask-optional on February 28th.
- Presently Weston High School
- Approvals for Weston Middle School and Field School are pending
- Students and staff can choose to wear a mask while on campus, or not depending on their individual and family health risks, needs, and/or beliefs.
- We are in the process of seeking amendment to the current High School waiver to include language that strongly advises use of masks for the unvaccinated, but does not require it.
- Masks (surgical, KN95 and N95) will remain available for any student or staff member who needs it at each school.
- Masks will remain required on all buses both during and after school hours per federal mandate.
*Mask usage is proven protective against COVID-19 for both the individual and the broader community. Respirators such as N95s give the most protection. KN95s and double surgical masks provide the next highest level of protection for the individual.
What additional mitigative measures will be changing on the 28th?
- Indoor lunch/snack time will change for mask-optional schools toward a “normal” model where students are free to sit at tables that are in alignment with the traditional lunch table format free of spacing and barrier restrictions, OR sit at tables or in designated areas where spacing and barrier restrictions remain in effect.
- Lunch/Snack will continue to occur outside whenever possible as students enjoy this opportunity to engage outside during these times. Students will be able to sit in less restrictive seating areas or remain on mats in alignment with current models.
- Return of “traditional” hot lunch offerings
*Families are encouraged to engage in these conversations with their children to determine seating preferences, and these preferences can be student driven or parents can contact building administrators with their wishes.
What mitigative measures will remain in place on the 28th?
- Frequent handwashing will be encouraged as well as continued use of hand sanitizer.
- Classroom design will remain the same with desks spaced at three feet in various patterns including forward facing, circular, grouped.
- Barriers for desks will be available for those students or parents who request them.
- Weekly and as needed testing will remain in place, including use of the newly implemented at-home rapid test kits.
- Livestream access for students who are homebound due to a COVID-19 related isolation or quarantine.
- Air purifiers in classrooms and throughout the schools and offices
Why February 28th and not sooner?
- Completion of initial phase of at-home rapid testing program
- Opportunity for district and Town case rates to decline
- Logistics including:
- Approval of mask-optional for all students at WHS, WMS and FS regardless of vaccination status
- Creation of dining spaces that meet the needs of all students
- Dissemination of building-based mask-optional plans to parents by Administrators
- Increased preparedness of established mental health professionals to support students during the transition
What mitigative measures are currently being redesigned?
- Event/Athletic guidance is being updated to include more access and changes to restrictions around attendee limits and dining.
- Changes to in school visitation to include access to schools for parents and return of school-based parent events and involvement.
- Changes to staff meetings to allow for more in-person meeting time.
- Goal of mid-March to begin additional changes
As with any changes that are made, additional communications will be posted on the website, communicated through email, and discussed at School Committee meetings.
As I have said continually throughout this pandemic we can do this well if we remain firmly united in our approach and flexible in our strategy. We respect and keep the needs of all of the members of our school community at the forefront. These have been trying times and I remain hopeful as we move forward.
I thank you for your continued support and dedication to the students and staff of Weston Public Schools and the members of our school community.
With Deep Regard,
Dr. Midge Connolly
Superintendent Weston Public Schools
Director of Health Services