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Deerfield maintains low case count following in-person return at private schools

  • The Deerfield Academy administration building. There was one positive COVID-19 test result reported in late September at Deerfield Academy. STAFF FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 10/7/2020 2:09:47 PM

DEERFIELD — The positive COVID-19 test result count in town has remained at one in recent weeks, coinciding with the start of in-person education at local private schools, which draw students and faculty from numerous surrounding communities.

“The exposure risk is really day students and staff,” wrote Carolyn Shores Ness, a member of the Board of Health, in an email. “They are all being tested twice a week to catch anything before it spreads to the residential population.”

Ness said there was one positive test result reported in late September at Deerfield Academy on Boyden Lane. That result, however, may have been a false positive, she noted, as the student received two negative test results using different labs in the subsequent days of her quarantine.

None of the 18 students who were identified as close contacts of the student tested positive for the virus, she added. In fact, all have since received two negative test results. Still, per local and state protocol, the student and all close contacts are continuing their 14-day quarantine.

Overall, Ness said, things have been “quiet” in town with respect to the pandemic.

“We have been very lucky, and the schools have been very vigilant about testing, social distancing and mask wearing,” she said.

Deerfield Academy took a three-test approach to re-opening, with students testing before they arrived to campus, upon arriving to campus and before classes began. All day students and employees are regularly being tested twice per week.

“The kids in particular really understand that they’re fortunate to be back here, together,” said Jessica Day, director of communications at Deerfield Academy. “They’re doing everything they can to make sure we can stay together.”

To date, the school has administered more than 6,100 tests since July 30, according to data on the COVID-19 testing dashboard on the school website. The dashboard is updated weekly on Fridays.

“We’re really being very careful,” Day said. “It’s about maintaining these layers of protection.”

Those layers include wearing masks, staying socially distant, testing and sticking within designated cohorts within the student body.

“They’ve been able to have outdoor classes,” she added. “There are still some teachers that are opting to have class outside because it’s gorgeous out.”

At The Bement School, a boarding school on Old Main Street with day students drawing from 25 towns in the Pioneer Valley, there was “some anxiety” about returning to campus in-person earlier this month.

“But once students got here, we were able to see the looks of joy on their faces,” said Mike Schloat, interim head of school. “People were able to exhale a little bit. People were … safe and healthy. I think there was a lot of relief.”

Although regular testing isn’t happening at The Bement School as it is at Deerfield Academy, Schloat said there have been no positive test results reported within the school community since the year began in mid-September with a phased-in re-entry of students.

“We feel really lucky to have a group of parents and families that are so committed to making this work together,” he said.

Following guidelines from the state, all desks are facing the same direction and spaced 6 feet a part, and students are required to wear masks. Teachers and students are also spending a significant amount of time outdoors.

“We’re doing all those things to really mitigate any transmission,” he said. “I’m feeling grateful to be in the Pioneer Valley, where community transmission is so low.”

Eaglebrook School, which also opened in September for in-person education for boys in grades six through nine, required testing of all staff and students before arriving to campus, according to an update on the school website. Students were tested again upon arrival and quarantined until test results arrived.

Head of School Andrew Chase could not be reached for comment by press time.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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