Berkshire Hills eyes hybrid reopening model, but teachers wary

Peter Dillon, superintendent of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, said Sunday that despite a fifth-grader at W.E.B. Du Bois Middle School testing positive for COVID-19, the case will not result in the school's closing. 

STOCKBRIDGE — The Berkshire Hills Regional School District will continue with in-person instruction, after a positive COVID-19 case in a fifth-grader was determined to be isolated. 

In a message Sunday afternoon to district families and employees, Superintendent Peter Dillon said that will the coronavirus is "increasingly more present in our communities," a case involving an elementary school student will not prompt a retreat from sessions at schools. But he signaled that circumstances could change, as he continued to review data on the spread of the disease and to consult with public health experts. 

"That student had been quarantined and was studying remotely," Dillon said in his message. "Contact tracing has been completed and we don’t see a connection to or impact to anyone. ... At this time, I remain confident that school can remain open safely."

On Nov. 13, Dillon said contact tracing had begun in the case of a fifth-grader found to be positive. It is unclear whether the case mentioned Sunday is the same. Dillon said in his email that he wanted to share "to share information in a timely manner, and to protect the privacy of individuals."

Dillon added, "If conditions change, I will update you and perhaps change our approach to schooling." In the district, fifth-graders attend the W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School in Great Barrington.

The superintendent reminded staff and families to be diligent with hand-washing, use of face coverings and social distancing. And with traditional celebrations nearing, he asked people to avoid gatherings and travel.

In a message Nov. 12, Dillon said families need to be aware of quarantine rules, if they host visitors, and he urged compliance with precautions against the spread of the virus. 

"Your actions in these next few weeks and months will either support or undermine our efforts to keep our schools open and our students engaged and learning," he wrote. "We are in a moral compact with each other to protect our collective health and well-being."

"I meet weekly with a group of teachers and school committee members to look at data trends," Dillon wrote. "We are very concerned. COVID-19 is taking hold all around us including in the Pioneer Valley and in Litchfield and Columbia Counties as well as in local restaurants, markets, and schools in other districts. The prospect of us facing a significant outbreak is likely."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass, investigations editor, joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and CommonWealth Magazine.