Area schools, public and private, plan for COVID-19

  • Seattle Public Schools will remain open despite coronavirus concerns as school districts and colleges around the region go online-only or close. Here in Franklin County, local public and private school officials say they are monitoring the situation. Dreamstime/TNS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2020 5:13:55 PM

School superintendents across Franklin County are doing like everyone else when it comes to COVID-19: trying not to overreact while doing everything they can to keep their students, teachers and staff safe.

As more reports came in last week that cases of the novel coronavirus had reached 13 states across the United States, superintendents sent letters to parents to keep them informed.

Greenfield Superintendent Jordana Harper, along with Mayor Roxann Wedegartener, lead nurse Pam Owen and Health Director Valerie Bird sent a letter to parents, students, families and staff saying that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Greenfield at this time.

The letter says that town officials are working together to engage in pro-active planning and reduce the risk in schools and the community. Currently, Greenfield is in the low-risk category.

The letter continues, “Much of the guidance for the coronavirus is similar to cold and flu prevention strategies.” In addition, Harper informs people about how her custodial staff is engaged in regular cleaning and disinfecting of hard surfaces, frequently touched surfaces, bathrooms and health rooms with Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectant and soap and water for removal of microorganisms.

The district is reviewing proper hand washing and basic health precautions with all students and staff, as well as holding demonstrations for students.

Along with the letter, Harper included a number of links, including one to a short video. She said she wants everyone to be as informed as possible.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said she will be meeting with other town leaders, including the ones who signed the letter, to discuss any further actions that can be taken. She said the city will update its protocol as more information comes from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and the state Department of Public Health (DPH).

Regional schools

Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Jonathan Scagel said the district is “ready to do whatever is recommended at the state and local levels.” He said if that were to mean closing schools, running vaccination clinics, if one becomes available earlier than health officials believe, or anything else to keep everyone safe, his team will do it.

“As of right now, we’re educating students and families on best practices for prevention, and we’re keeping the community informed,” Scagel said.

He said he and his district’s nurses are working on the issue daily and meeting to discuss strategies. The letter he sent starts, “Given the evolving global outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus, we wanted to touch base with families in our community letting you know the PVRSD is following state-recommended guidelines closely. The letter tells parents that the school is working closely with the district’s physician, as well as local and state officials.

“PVRSD takes public health concerns very seriously; if there are any changes recommended by the state we will share that information with you as we receive it,” the letter says.

Scagel and his team also attached resources and information about COVID-19 from the DPH and the CDC.

Mohawk Trail Regional School District Interim Superintendent Leann Loomis and district nurse Sue Mitchell sent a letter to all staff and families saying they understand everyone has questions about COVID-19 and how it might eventually impact their community.

The letter provides information about the CDC’s daily updates and where to find them, and lets people know the risk is still low. It suggests people take the same precautions they would for the seasonal flu and strep infections.

Loomis requests that parents keep sick children home from school if they have fevers greater than 100.4, coughing or difficulty breathing or any other serious symptoms.

Loomis said the district will continue to monitor COVID-19 as it evolves and update everyone.

“We are in close communication with the local Board of Health, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health/School Health Unit, and monitoring the CDC updates,” the letter reads. “Additionally, we follow all recommended guidelines to ensure the safety of our students and staff and have a plan in place.”

Tari Thomas, superintendent of Ralph C. Mahar Regional School, Orange Elementary School and Petersham Center School sent a letter to families and caregivers on Feb. 27 saying, “We understand that many families have questions regarding the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus and how it may impact our local community.”

Thomas asked that sick children stay home from school. She said the district is following the situation closely through the CDC, DPH and other sources and is “monitoring student health concerns.”

“We remain deeply committed to student and staff wellness and will continue to share new information with you, as necessary, about this evolving situation,” she wrote.

Gill-Montague Regional School District Superintendent Michael Sullivan and Frontier Regional and Union 38 School Districts Superintendent Darius Modestow sent similar letters to parents and caregivers at the beginning of the week referencing information provided by the DPH and CDC and explaining the cleaning protocols throughout district schools.

“They are very strong and were put in place before this even happened,” Sullivan said.

He said right now the district is letting people know what they can do to avoid coming in contact with COVID-19, but will be sending another letter within the next few days to give updates.

“I want people to know that we are meeting regularly with our two boards of health,” Sullivan said. “We’re having constant dialogue.”

Sullivan said there are no trips abroad planned for Gill-Montague students, but there are teachers and students who live in the community who go to other schools that might be planning trips.

“That is one wrinkle,” he said. “We have to figure out what to do about that, especially if it reaches here.”

Modestow said in his letter that he understands there are many questions about COVID-19 and its impact on the schools in South County. He said as with seasonal flu and strep infections, people should be taking general precautions.

“Please rest assured that we are monitoring student health concerns,” he wrote. “Our School Facilities Department is vigilantly sanitizing our educational spaces as we typically do during cold and flu season. We are following all recommended guidelines to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”

Local private schools

Maeve Ryan, spokes-woman for Stoneleigh-Burnham School in Greenfield, said the private school is monitoring the situation and adhering to all recommendations from the CDC, World Health Organization and state DPH.

“We don’t have any international trips planned for this spring, so we don’t have to worry about that,” she said. 

She said the school is also staying in touch with many peer schools and the National Association of Independent School and Association of Boarding Schools, both of which are offering many resources.

Ryan said the school is updating its pandemic procedures and assessing domestic trips scheduled for the spring, including one to Washington, D.C. She said the school will also be checking with all students about their plans for spring break and whether they will be traveling to high-risk areas.

Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill sent a written statement via email to The Recorder saying, “Our priority at Northfield Mount Hermon is the health, wellness, and safety of our community. We have been and will continue to monitor and follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization, and we remain flexible as we support our students and the school community.”

Jessica Day, spokeswoman for Deerfield Academy, said the local boarding and day school is monitoring the situation daily. She said student, teacher and staff wellness it the school’s priority.

Day said the coming week is spring break, so the school will be checking in with students when they return.

“We’re following all the protocol set forth by the state, the DPH, the CDC,” she said. “We want to keep a close eye on this.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 5269, or


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