Dear Parents, Caregivers, Guardians, and Staff,
Happy New Year! As we welcome 2021, I would like to thank you for your patience as we continue to navigate the uncertainties of this school year. You stepped up in extraordinary ways during these past few months and we know that the decision to open in a hybrid model will continue to place a burden on your family. Our commitment to partner with you this year is unlike any other. We have heard repeatedly that “we are all in this together” but nowhere is that truer than in educating our students. Our highest priority is to keep our students, teachers, and staff safe. This letter contains lots of detailed information you need to understand. Like many things in the time of Coronavirus, the details outlined below are complex.
If you are returning from travel of a high-risk state, we remind you that you MUST comply with state travel requirements, including quarantining for 10 days or until receiving a negative PCR/molecular COVID-19 test result. Please submit the result to the school nurse prior to in-person attendance. To view the WPS and state guidance information regarding travel click here.
Weston Public Schools Response to COVID-19:
Although we began our school year and remain in a hybrid model, we are continuing to refine our hybrid model to maximize student learning time. Our school leaders and staff have worked diligently to ensure that we successfully execute all of the recommended safety measures, including signs to direct staff and students, mandatory mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand washing and daily symptom checks, in addition to daily and weekly sanitizing of the schools. Furthermore, our collaboration with the Weston Board of Health (please link to https://www.westonma.gov/health), including review of safety practices, identification and notification of positive cases and close contacts, and support for students and staff who are in isolation and quarantine, has allowed us to remain open despite the mounting COVID-19 case count across the state.
Our planning process has included thinking ahead to how to best incorporate COVID-19 testing into our school safety protocols. In August we created a Medical Advisory Board composed of experts, community members, and staff who helped us to successfully navigate the available testing milieu to determine the best available testing options for Weston Public Schools. Through close collaboration with this group, and through support of the Town and the Weston Board of Health, we have developed a strong testing platform that will be available for all students and staff, free of charge, beginning the week of January 11th, 2021.
Our testing platform will include two models:
1) Weekly, pre-scheduled asymptomatic PCR testing for students and staff (for students and staff who have no known symptoms of COVID-19)
2) Testing of symptomatic individuals using antigen testing for students and staff who develop symptoms of COVID-19 while in school.
This two-prong approach will enable us to provide weekly assurance to those who partake in the asymptomatic testing, and early identification and isolation of those who are Covid-19 positive and develop symptoms while in school. We have successfully partnered with the state and the Broad Institute through Project Beacon to offer these additional safety measures to all students and staff who are interested.
We strongly encourage all Staff and Students to participate in the COVID-19 testing program provided by the Weston Public Schools. Over the next week you will be receiving an email invitation to register for our testing platforms from Project Beacon. You must register/provide consent for yourself/minor student(s) to participate in either of the two testing types below. The process for registration can be reviewed here. During the registration process you will be asked to complete a consent document. This consent serves two purposes; first, it serves as a consent for testing, which gives the school permission to test you or your student. Second, it serves as a consent to report results to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and to the Board of Health where you/your student lives. As COVID-19 is a reportable disease as mandated by the state of Massachusetts, to access testing, you must agree to the reporting of results. The reporting process is completed automatically through the Project Beacon platform once consent is obtained. A sample consent form can be reviewed here. The entire registration and consent process takes 2-3 minutes, is available to anyone 18 years of age or older without a designated parent or guardian, and once registered, the user/parent/guardian is able to use this platform for testing at school and at any of the Project Beacon testing sites (Stop-the-Spread) throughout the state, listed here. Once you or your student are registered, an appointment can be scheduled using the Project Beacon scheduling platform (within the Weston program or at other Project Beacon sites). Instructions for appointment scheduling can be found here.
The testing process is simple. Testing consists of placing a small Q-tip like swab into the lower (anterior) portion of your nose and swabbing for 3 seconds on each side. Individuals who are 12 years of age and older are able to self-swab while being monitored by a nurse. Individuals who are younger than 12 years of age, or who do not wish to self-swab, will be sampled by a nurse.
Weekly Asymptomatic PCR Testing:
On the date of your appointment, you should arrive at the testing location at the scheduled time, you will be checked in using your Project Beacon QR code and directed to a nurse for testing. Once the sample is collected, you will receive the results through the Project Beacon site within 18-24 hours. The entire testing process should take 5-10 minutes from arrival to departure. Weekly testing for asymptomatic students will be offered on Tuesdays in the Field School Cafeteria and Thursdays in the High School Atrium between the hours of 12:30 and 5:00PM. Weekly testing for asymptomatic staff will be offered at their assigned school through the building-based nurse, available times will be listed on the Project Beacon platform.
Symptomatic Antigen Testing:
Students or staff who develop COVID-19 like symptoms while in school will be directed to the nurse for assessment and testing using the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid antigen test. This rapid test has been provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and is approved by the FDA to identify the presence of Covid-19 in symptomatic individuals in a sample resulting within 15 minutes. REGARDLESS OF TEST RESULT, ALL STUDENTS AND STAFF WHO DISPLAY COVID-19 SYMPTOMS IN SCHOOL WILL BE DISMISSED HOME.
If a result is negative, the individual must still be dismissed home, using current COVID-19 dismissal procedures, and can return to school once the symptoms have resolved and they have been cleared by their Primary Care provider or a negative PCR/molecular COVID-19 test. If you have chosen to also participate in the Project Beacon testing option as discussed previously in this document, the school nurse will obtain a PCR sample in addition to the negative BinaxNOW sample. Results of this second sample will be available in 18-24 hours, and can be used to return to in-person learning once symptoms have resolved.
If the result is positive, the individual MUST be dismissed home and begin isolation as soon as possible using current COVID-19 dismissal procedures.
Results of all testing (whether antigen or PCR-type, resulting positive or negative) are reported to the Department of Public Health and to the Weston Board of Health, and once reported, the Weston Board of Health will provide support with the following for individuals with positive test results:
- Isolation at home for at least 10 days and until at least 24 hours have passed with no fever and improvement in other symptoms
- Ongoing symptom evaluation
- Encouraging you to connect with your physician and personal close contacts
- Return to school/work guidance
Any students or staff who were possible close contacts of a positive individual will be notified and dismissed home. The Board of Health will follow up to verify close contact status and provide quarantine information.
Other Testing Scenarios:
In some instances, your Board of Health or primary care provider may ask you to seek Coronavirus testing. YOU MAY NOT USE THE SCHOOL TESTING SITES TO COMPLETE THIS TESTING. You must seek testing at one of the state provided testing sites listed here. Testing of symptomatic individuals puts school staff, including the nurse, at risk of contracting the virus, and should only be conducted when medically necessary. Please do your part and remain home if you develop symptoms and follow the current procedures for return to school.
What Testing Is:
Testing is a glimpse in time, and represents the individual’s COVID-19 status only at the moment the sample is taken. Testing provides an additional tool in our mitigation toolbox and the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the movement of COVID-19 within Weston and beyond. To date we have not seen in-school spread of COVID-19. The more staff/students that participate in our weekly PCR testing the more we will know about the Coronavirus-status of our community.
What Testing Is Not:
It is NOT a safety pass. It does not confer safety, nor does it reduce risk when engaging in social activities. It is NOT permission to travel or engage in other high-risk activities.
Our Tools to Combat the Coronavirus Pandemic:
Our current tools to Stop the Spread of COVID-19 are:
- Hand washing
- Social distancing
- Avoiding social gatherings and delaying travel
- Staying home if feeling unwell
- Testing and
- Vaccination as it becomes available (link to https://www.mass.gov/covid-19-vaccine-in-massachusetts)
The Weston Public Schools remain committed to fostering all these choices in partnership with The Weston Board of Health.
While we are pleased to offer you this free, new alternative, we ask that you continue to remain vigilant and dedicated to use of the current mitigation methods to keep our schools open. Please contact Jamy Gaynor, Director of Health Services at firstname.lastname@example.org, your building-based nurse or your principal with any questions or concerns you may have. Public health questions can be directed to Michele Schuckel, COVID-19 Response Manager for the Town of Weston at Schuckel.m@WestonMA.gov.
Thank you for partnering with us.
Midge Connolly, PhD, MEd, BA
Superintendent of Schools
Jamy Gaynor, EdD, MS, RN, NCSN
Director of Health Services
Michele Fronk Schuckel, MBA, BSN, RN
COVID-19 Response Manager, Public Health Nurse
Town of Weston, Board of Health