North Country Supervisory Union

North Country Supervisory Union

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NCSU COVID-19 Response

Holiday Greetings to NCSU Staff, FAmilies and Board Members

December 21, 2020


Dear NCSU Staff, Families and Board Members,

Many thanks to everyone for your continued perseverance and commitment to caring for one another through these challenging times. I believe we’ve collectively done very well to keep our schools healthy and open for in-person learning. I greatly appreciate everyone’s hard work, sacrifices, and care for students and each other.

The practices we have in place enabled us to successfully maintain in-person learning over the past four months. We recognize the disruption and increased concern regarding the health and wellbeing for staff and students that we experience with a positive case. We remain fortunate that we do not have any evidence that the virus has been transmitted within a school setting thus far. Nonetheless, we need to remain vigilant in our efforts to keep the virus at bay. We are all hopeful that the vaccines that are now being distributed will eventually be the turning point to suppressing the virus and helping us return to normal.

However, we must recognize the next several months will continue to present difficulties for families and our schools. We must remain prepared for “going remote” for classrooms or “pods”, school and even our supervisory union due to positive cases in schools. We also could be compelled to go remote due to staffing shortages. Although we are committed to in-person learning, we will continue to monitor and assess the ever-changing situation and switch to remote learning in the interest of staff and student wellbeing if deemed necessary. We must stay the course of all our efforts to ensure public health.

Many of you are no doubt struggling with the decision around travel and family gatherings over the upcoming Holiday break, as was the case with Thanksgiving. We highly encourage families and staff alike to avoid discretionary travel. We expect that everyone will continue to adhere to quarantine guidelines related to interstate travel.

We fully understand spending time with family during Holidays is so important to everyone. Nonetheless, we all need to be mindful of the potential for transmission of the virus within social gatherings. The health risks of the virus are serious, and we all must continue to make tough choices to minimize the risk of transmission. While we support the Governor’s order, we will maintain our practice of not asking staff or students about social gatherings as it is not required.

Likely, many of you are aware of other school districts that have made the preemptive decision to “go remote” after break for a period of time. Simply, the data on community spread, school cases and no evidence of transmission in schools does not support doing so. It does not seem prudent for us to go remote to suggest that it would allow staff and students to quarantine since that is in direct opposition to the Governors orders. As stated previously, in my letter before Thanksgiving, shifting to remote learning presents many other challenges and limitations to learning. We are hopeful that we will not see large numbers of staff and students quarantining after break.

Please know that we recognize that families are doing their part to stay healthy and limit the risk of transmission at school. We know staff are making great sacrifices to not travel or see family in order to keep our schools open for in-person instruction. We know maintaining in-person learning asks a lot from all of you. We hope you will make careful and considerate choices in the weeks to come that will allow schools to stay open and keep everyone healthy. Our independent and collective decisions do make a difference in the health and wellbeing of others.

I am truly thankful for the hard work and dedication of our staff in the interest of students’ health and learning, along with the continued support of families as we navigate these challenging times together. Thank you for caring about and caring for each other.

Happy Holidays,

John A. Castle

NCSU Superintendent of Schools


December 10, 2020

AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR NCCC/NCUHS FAMILIES

Dear North Country Union High School Families,

I am writing to let you know that we were informed that an individual at NCUHS/NCCC has tested positive for COVID-19. Our COVID Response Team met this afternoon and we are working closely with the Vermont Department of Health to assess and respond to this situation. The individual was not at the high school while infectious, and we have identified those individuals at the Career Center who are considered close contacts. We will make arrangements for any specific classes to pivot to remote learning.

It is the Vermont Department of Health that identifies those who may have been exposed to the virus. Close contact means being within six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period while the person was infectious, which starts two days before symptoms began and continues until they are recovered. They will also consider someone a close contact if they have spent more than four hours with the infected individual in the same space. Close contact does not mean being in the same room briefly or walking by someone in the hall. We know that the last potential for exposure at school occurred on Monday, December 7. This is important because it establishes the timeline for quarantining of close contacts. The school will inform staff and students if they are deemed a close contact. We will also inform those who are not close contacts yet may have been in the same space with the individual who has tested positive. Due to medical privacy laws, we cannot provide any additional information about this case.

We are confident that there is a very limited risk that others were exposed. We still encourage families to monitor their students for COVID symptoms daily. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Some have reported additional symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, lethargy, lack of appetite, loss of test or smell, vomiting, and diarrhea. Parents and guardians of students or staff exhibiting symptoms are asked to contact their family physician, the Vermont Department of Health, and the school nurse. Thus far, we do not have evidence that the virus is being transmitted within school. However, we cannot rule that out as a potential, and we certainly know there is an increase in the prevalence of the virus in the community. We encourage families to be vigilant regarding best practices to limit the spread of the virus in social settings. As always, the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and families is our top priority.

At this time, we ask our community for compassion and understanding for all who may be impacted by this virus. Please do not speculate, ask, post on social media -- it is important to respect the privacy of individuals involved. We will communicate with you any additional information that becomes available. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

John A. Castle

Superintendent of Schools

December 7, 2020

IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR NCSU FAMILIES

Dear NCSU Families,


Thank you for your continued patience and support as we navigate the ongoing challenges of this pandemic. We recognize that, as we’ve seen an increase in cases in Vermont, the NEK, and our communities, the impact of the virus has been felt by many of you. I’m writing to you today to provide some important updates and clarifications. Please do not hesitate to contact your school principal or me directly if you have questions.


Happy Holidays and Be Well!


John A. Castle

NCSU Superintendent of Schools



NOT INFECTIOUS WHILE AT SCHOOL: We’ve had a couple of situations where either a staff member or student tested positive but were never infectious while at school. Based on our guidance from the Vermont Department of Health, these are cases that have no direct impact on schools, thus we will not be reporting these cases to the school community.


REPORTING ON SCHOOL CASES: We inform staff and families anytime a school has a positive case and the individual was present at school while infectious. Based on our consultation with the Vermont Department of Health, school administrators call staff and parents of students deemed close contacts and we follow up with a quarantine letter. We are also providing communication with staff and families when an individual may have been exposed due to some proximity to an infected person, such as being in the same room or on the same bus. In this case, we send an “Exposure Letter” to those people who may be affected. We will continue to post the letter that goes to families on the NCSU website and Facebook page, in addition to individual school social media platforms. We are not sending an email or providing a SchoolMessenger message to those other than the specific affected school.


“GOING REMOTE”: We will continue to make specific determinations to have an individual classroom, “pod” (a group of classes), or school go remote based on the particular factors in each case. In our consideration of going remote across the supervisory union, we will monitor community spread, the number of school cases, and any evidence of transmission within our schools. At this time, we do not anticipate the Governor or Secretary of Education ordering all schools to close as they did last spring. Although there were some school districts in the State that preemptively went remote after the Thanksgiving holiday, and some are considering such after the upcoming Holiday/New Year break, NCSU is not planning to do so.


SNOW DAYS: There has been some consideration regarding eliminating snow days due to our ability to provide remote learning. We will not be doing so this year, as most schools still do not send devices home daily, and we are concerned about limited productivity on these days. Loss of wages for support staff is another problem. Eliminating snow days is something we will consider in future years.

December 6, 2020

An Important Message for Derby Elementary School Families

Dear Derby Elementary School Families,

I am writing to let you know that we have been informed that an individual at Derby Elementary School has tested positive for COVID-19. Our COVID Response Team met this afternoon and we are working closely with the Vermont Department of Health to assess and respond to this situation. We have identified those individuals who are considered close contacts in a fifth grade classroom and other specific locations. We will make arrangements for that class to pivot to remote learning. There are no plans to move to remote instruction for the whole school.

It is the Vermont Department of Health that identifies those who may have been exposed to the virus. Close contact means being within six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period while the person was infectious, which starts two days before symptoms began and continues until they are recovered. They will also consider someone a close contact if they have spent more than four hours with someone in the same space. Close contact does not mean being in the same room briefly or walking by someone in the hall. We know that the last potential for exposure at school occurred on Friday, December 4. This is important because it establishes the timeline for quarantining of close contacts. The school will inform staff and students if they are deemed a close contact. We will also inform those who are not close contacts, yet may have been in the same space with the individual who has tested positive. Due to medical privacy laws, we cannot provide any additional information about this case.

We are confident that there is a very limited risk that others were exposed. We still encourage families to monitor their students for COVID symptoms daily. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Some have reported additional symptoms, such as a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, lethargy, lack of appetite, loss of test or smell, vomiting, and diarrhea. Parents and guardians of students or staff exhibiting symptoms are asked to contact their family physician, the Vermont Department of Health, and the school nurse. Thus far, we do not have evidence that the virus is being transmitted within school. However, we cannot rule that out as a potential, and we certainly know there is an increase in the prevalence of the virus in the community. We encourage families to be vigilant regarding best practices to limit the spread of the virus in social settings. As always, the safety and well-being of our students, staff, and families is our top priority.

At this time, we ask our community for compassion and understanding for all who may be impacted by this virus. Please do not speculate, ask, post on social media -- it is important to respect the privacy of individuals involved. We will communicate with you any additional information that becomes available. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

John A. Castle

Superintendent of Schools

November 24, 2020

Message for NCSU Staff, Families and Board Members

November 24, 2020

Dear NCSU Staff, Families and Board Members,

First, please know I appreciate everyone’s continued commitment to caring for each other during this challenging time.

We were truly fortunate to have experienced such a limited presence of the virus in the NEK through the summer and early fall. Unfortunately, given the prevalence of the virus in other states, more tourism, travel by Vermonters, and perception that we could more freely engage in social gatherings, we are now seeing increased cases across the state, the NEK and our communities. I realize this has created much anxiety for everyone in our school-community. However, I remain confident that together we can get through this pandemic and still provide the best possible education for our children.

I firmly believe we have had a successful fall despite our many challenges. All of our pre-k to six and pre-k to eight schools, as well as NCUJHS, opened for in-person instruction and NCUHS is utilizing a hybrid model. We also have provided a range of virtual options. This was through an immense amount of careful planning that began last spring and concluded with contributions by everyone across our NCSU community. I greatly appreciate everyone’s hard work, sacrifices, and care for students and each other.

While no systems are absolutely perfect, the routines and practices we’ve developed and continue to refine for maintaining healthy schools serve us well. We know the anxiety and disruption of closing a school with a positive case is not limited to that school alone. I know everyone is doing their part to keep our families and our schools healthy. Thus far, we do not have any evidence that the virus has been transmitted within a school setting. Yet, we must remain vigilant.

As you are aware, throughout the early fall our school-community experienced low cases of COVID-19. We must not let down our guard, especially as we move into the winter months when we are all more confined to indoor spaces. We now understand that outbreaks are often related to social gatherings where we are less likely to follow the conventions of wearing masks, physical distancing or recommended practices for quarantine.

With the appearance of seasonal colds and flu, it could become increasingly difficult to keep up with absentee rates amongst staff given our COVID context. We must remain prepared for a responsive closure due to positive cases in schools. In addition, we cannot rule out the potential for a system-wide closure resulting from increased community spread and certainly if we experience transmission within schools. If we are forced to close due to various factors, we will do so knowing that we have done all we can to maintain in-person learning.

Many of you are no doubt considering traveling over the Thanksgiving and December breaks. I highly encourage families and staff alike to avoid discretionary travel over the holidays. Any time we travel we are increasing the chance of our exposure. We expect that everyone will continue to adhere to quarantine guidelines related to interstate travel.

I also encourage everyone to be mindful of the potential for transmission of the virus within social gatherings. I fully understand the desire to spend time with family that you’ve not seen in many months or perhaps even since last year during the holidays. The reality is we are still very much in the midst of a pandemic and the public health risks are real. While we are fortunate to live in Vermont and the NEK, we have seen that we are not risk-free. First and foremost, we want you, your family and our community members to remain healthy.

We are concerned that students may miss many days of school as a result of quarantine after Thanksgiving break. If we have a significant number of staff travelers in quarantine upon return, the resulting staff shortfalls could force us to close a school for some period of time. We would need to make up lost instructional days if schools closed due to staffing shortages. Even if schools were able to remain open with substitutes, which is increasingly difficult, we must recognize that this would result in diminished learning.

I’m sure many staff, students and parents have asked, “Why don’t we just go remote through the holidays?” It does seem like a simple answer, but it is a more complex issue. Shifting to remote learning imposes childcare challenges on many families. We also must consider the equity issues that come with remote learning: many of our families still have internet access issues, special education students have reduced access to services, and we disrupt access to school meals that are essential for many children. Also, there are support staff who will not be working in a remote situation and will suffer a loss of income. Finally, we recognize the lost benefits of in-person learning academically and social/emotionally.

If our schools are to remain open for in-person instruction, we all need to remain committed to best practices to mitigate the spread of the virus both in and out of school. I know this asks a lot from all of you who have sacrificed and given so much already. I hope you will make careful and considerate choices regarding your travel or social gatherings in the weeks to come. Our ability to support the health and wellbeing of everyone in our school-community is a result of our independent decisions—we truly are in this together! We all need to care about and care for each other.

I am truly thankful for all our staff do each day in the interest of students’ health and learning, along with the continued support of families as we navigate these challenging times together.

Happy Thanksgiving,

John A. Castle

NCSU Superintendent of Schools

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VT AOE Guidance for Schools Related to Limits on Multi-Household Social Gatherings

NORTH COUNTRY SUPERVISORY UNION

COVID-19 Attendance Guide for Families and Staff

If someone who lives in your house is symptomatic and being tested for COVID-19, no other member of the household needs to isolate/quarantine as long as they are asymptomatic, have not had exposure to someone known to have COVID-19, or have not engaged in high-risk travel.*

The asymptomatic student or staff member may continue to go to school/work until such time as the family member being tested comes back positive for COVID-19 or the student/staff member becomes symptomatic.

If the test result is positive, the asymptomatic student/staff must stay home (quarantine) for 14 days or, if they continue to be asymptomatic, can be tested on day 7 and if negative, can return to school/work.

This guidance comes from the Vermont Department of Health and is endorsed by our local pediatricians and physicians.

*exposure/travel: had close contact (within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) with a person with confirmed COVID-19; or traveled to or lived in an area where the local or state health department is reporting large number of cases of COVID-19. https://accd.vermont.gov/COVID-19/restart/cross-state-travel. High-risk travel also includes travel to a “green” area via public transportation (e.g. airplane, bus).


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