At the last Cheshire Board of Education meeting, on Feb. 4, Superintendent Jeff Solan confirmed what he described as a minor outbreak of COVID-19 at Cheshire High School, but one that he believes can be addressed swiftly.
“Cheshire High School is kind of experiencing a flair in (COVID-19) cases right now,” he confirmed. “We currently have (six) positive cases, which is obviously worrisome but not something that we don’t have under control.”
According to Solan, this particular outbreak has not spread to faculty or staff, and is contained among the student population.
“There are 1,362 students at CHS and six are positive,” Solan confirmed to The Herald. “I am including the full enrollment because we include remote learners in our reporting. That means a .004% positivity.”
“The positives are not tied to classroom spread,” he continued. “As a matter of fact, more than one of the six current positives (students) never step foot in the school as (they are) remote learners. As has been the case in other buildings, the typical situation is that an adult in the home becomes positive and the students who live there ultimately become positive as well. The fact that the reporting came in such succession can lead to anxiety, as was the case earlier this year when the same scenario occurred at Highland, Dodd, and Norton.”
Solan explained that throughout the pandemic the District has faced a handful of challenges, and they continue to deal with those challenges today.
“Keeping students in school is our number-one priority, and we want to be able to do so safely,” he said. “We have had about a year’s worth of experience now with what has worked and what hasn’t, and we have learned that this is not a straightforward thing.”
“Halls and dining areas still remain issues in terms of social distancing and mask wearing,” he continued, “and similarly with common areas and classroom cleaning, which needs to be done regularly.”
Currently, CHS is operating on a hybrid model, which means the student population is split into groups referred to as cohorts. The two cohorts of students attend in-class instruction on alternating days, while the other learns remotely. On Wednesdays, the entire student population logs in for remote learning.
During the meeting, Solan informed the Board that the District has recently begun to allow more students to attend school in-person at once, and is phasing in some current remote learners.
“We’ve started phasing in more students where we can,” he said. “But we couldn’t do any of this until we knew exactly what we were dealing with and how to address it. And if we begin to see a rise in cases as we do this, we are going to stop.”
The biggest factor in this is the rate at which the Town is vaccinating its residents, and how effective the vaccinations are.
“Teachers are not yet being vaccinated at mass rates, but we do know that some of them are being able to get fit in in places where they may have doses left over,” he said. “But we currently have 109 students who are fully in school (at CHS) all the time.”
Conversely, Solan confirmed that about 25% of the student population have remained in remote learning, and he understands they might be in that situation for a while.
“Some students cannot come back to school right now due to the impact COVID has had on their family, and we are sensitive to those students as well,” he said. “We want to make sure that, when the students do come back full-time, that they don’t have to then go back to remote a month later.”
BOE Board member Tim White commented on how he believes students next year are going to be at an “educational disadvantage,” and how staff will have a big challenge ahead of them.
“This is really an ‘all hands on deck’ situation,” he said. “I have no doubt educationally that our students will be at a disadvantage next year, which is why our operating budget is so important this year.”