Citing the rising COVID-19 case rates and the overwhelming challenges of contact tracing, the Southern Berkshire Regional School District is moving to remote learning until April 12th. The district represents four schools and 700 students in the towns of Sheffield, New Marlborough, Egremont, Monterey, and Alford, Massachusetts. It last went fully remote in January. Superintendent Beth Regulbuto says the COVID-19 situation has never been this bad for the district.
REGULBUTO: This was an incredibly hard choice. We were really excited, we were bringing our pre K to 12 back in person five days a week, full time starting on Monday, but there has just been a tremendous uptick in cases and on a daily basis, we are getting more positives. So we- what people I think are struggling with, they want to know what the specific DESE guidance is making the decisions. And what they need to understand is DESE guidance is just that – it’s guidance, where as you have to take in to effect the – into account, I should say – the local safety concerns, and then it becomes a local decision based on what's happening in your district. And what we're finding as we were talking to our school physician and public health is that more students are now testing positive, which wasn't the case before. And families have, you know, it's just coming in more and more each day. And in our communities, there's a definite uptick. So after a while, you have to make a choice, because people have, with contact tracing, end up having to stay home and teach from there. But somebody has to be in the building to feed the kids. And we're a small district. So teachers cross buildings, they cross schools. So that that makes it a little bit trickier for a district our size.
WAMC: Massachusetts has taken great steps forward in reopening in the last month. From your vantage point, given that a month after some of these major restrictions, say on restaurant capacities went down, the district is now moving to a remote setting because of the community spread. What’s the takeaway about the reopening of Massachusetts, from the Southern Berkshire Regional School District’s vantage point?
You know, really, we believe, and we have wanted to have our students in front of us five days a week. We believe it's important for them to have connections and to be in person with their teachers. We think that's what's best for kids. Socially, emotionally, all those relationships. That's what everybody hopes for. We understand this has been incredibly hard for families during this time, especially with our youngest learners. Everybody wants that. However, you know, we've been lucky. We have had a great experience. It's just right now we seem to be having a little bit of, you know, I don't know what to say. But there's definitely an increase in cases and in things that we haven't seen before. So we still want to do this in a way that's safe. That's what we promised our community, we said we would take care of each other. And I think this is the only way to ensure that that happens.
When we've spoken in the past, you've talked about the belief you have in the community that you represent, and the hard work that went into keeping the district pretty open for a substantial portion of the pandemic, certainly, compared to some neighboring Berkshire districts. What does that say now at this point? Does this in any way challenge you trust in the community? Or is this a larger story about a larger effort to contain something like the pandemic?
Yeah, I think our community has been amazing. I think people have, you know- Part of why this was trickier, and we were able to hold on as long as we've been able to hold on is that people, if they were symptomatic, they kept their children home, or they kept their families remote. And then until they found out for sure what was really going on. And so, you know, we've been lucky, it's just that there's just more of it right now. And I think, you know, for everybody to just take the time to be safe and give the schools that breather, you know, keeping people at home for a little bit longer will be worth it. This will be for us, I think a total of three weeks where we haven't had kids in the building since this started. And I think that's pretty amazing.
As far as the actual numbers, how many cases have emerged in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District community?
In the last three days alone, we’ve had confirmed three staff members, we've had some family members of people that are confirmed, we don't report that, but their students weren't in school. And then we had two students identified today. So it's definitely, there's definitely more of it than has been around, and it's getting harder and harder to contact trace because people are staying remote so we don't know where they're going. So it's just- We have a few people who are symptomatic right now and waiting for results to come in. So all those factors in taken into consideration and the reporting that's happening, you know, in the towns is what's driving this decision.