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Receiver Villar Updates Staff on Covid-19 Decisions

Dr. Jeffrey Villar, Receiver/Superintendent of Southbridge Public Schools released the following letter to staff today. The district also released a letter to parents In English y En Español. Both documents and all other updates or resources on Covid-19 are centralized on a page on our website dedicated to keeping you informed on Covid-19.

March 13, 2020

Dear Staff,

With mounting concern about Covid-19, I would like to again reassure staff, families, and the community at large that the district is prepared to respond to any local risk or incident that may emerge in our area in collaboration with the relevant agencies, including the Board of Health and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The health and safety of our student and adult population is our highest priority. The decision to close our schools will have a significant impact on the Southbridge Community presenting a host of serious consequences for our students, their families, and town resources and that is why in these circumstances we must rely on our most knowledgeable medical professionals in making such an important decision. Federal, state and local officials are all working in collaboration to slow the spread of this new virus and must do so in a manner that maintains the social fabric of our community and does not put children at unnecessary risk.

To this end, the Southbridge Board of Health will decide if it is in the best interest of the community to send students home or to cancel school. As of a meeting last night, and in accordance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, it was determined that schools should remain open. This is a fluid situation and we continue to work collaboratively with the Board of Health and all relevant agencies to monitor the situation as it progresses and we will update you promptly with any developments. I will act promptly to make decisions in response to any changing conditions in consideration of information and guidance that emerges from State, Federal, and local agencies.

At this time, there is no known exposure to or cases of Covid-19 in our community and so we are at a “none to minimal” category of the Centers for Disease Control’s Implementation of Mitigation Strategies for Communities guidance document on Covid-19. As a community, we are currently taking all actions recommended for this level of risk, including hygienic practices such as disinfecting areas, frequent handwashing or hand sanitizer use, and establishing communication with the Board of Health and other agencies.

Preventive measures, such as washing your hands, remain the best line of defense for individuals and communities. If you are not able to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer. Cover any cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands), stay away from people who are sick, and stay home if you are sick.

The Buildings and Grounds Department of Southbridge Public Schools has a sufficient supply of cleaning supplies for classrooms, which are available if teachers or staff need additional supplies of this type. If staff need supplies or have a cleaning concern they should notify their principal, who will inform their head custodian and Director of Buildings and Grounds, Mike Comeau. Additionally, we have a specific plan and sufficient supplies to clean and disinfect all school areas as needed. The school district company, AA Transportation, has also taken new precautions to clean and sanitize surfaces to reduce transmission of illness.

The MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has provided specific guidance about cancellations in response to Covid-19 and the requirement of a 180-day school year. These guidelines include:

  • Any days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies between March 16 and June 1 must be made up to ensure a 180-day school year, or until the district has reached its previously scheduled 185th day, whichever comes first. If all five snow days have been used prior to this point, the district is not required to schedule additional school days.

  • Districts will not be expected to make up days lost to health, weather, or safety emergencies that occur after June 1.

  • The longest that any school district will be required to go is its scheduled 185th day. No schools will be required to be in session after June 30.

  • This policy applies to the current school year only.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has provided guidance to recommend that older community members and those at increased risk of illness should avoid larger school gatherings as a precautionary measure.

The district website, www.SouthbridgePublic.org, now contains a page dedicated to information and any updates from the district about Covid-19. You can find this page by clicking on a notice on the website home page or through the “For Families” drop-down menu. This is where you will find the most updated information if circumstances change.

The virus spreads mainly from person to person, between people who are in close physical contact and through respiratory droplets from the sneeze or cough of an infected person. Close contact is considered within about six feet. It is possible that transmission can occur by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way that the virus spreads.

For more information on the coronavirus, please see the attached fact sheet from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health both in English and in Spanish.

The State of Massachusetts also provides detailed information about the current outbreak of Covid-19, or the coronavirus on the Mass.gov website (mass.gov)

You can also get updates and information about Covid-19 from the Centers for Disease Control website (CDC.gov).

Thank you for your continued dedication to the children of Southbridge.

Regards,

Jeffrey A. Villar, Ph.D.

Receiver/Superintendent

Southbridge Public Schools

Transmission electron microscopic image of an isolate from the first U.S. case of COVID-19, formerly known as 2019-nCoV. The spherical viral particles, colorized blue, contain cross-sections through the viral genome, seen as black dots. Image courtesy CDC.

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