PITTSFIELD — Life and learning at Pittsfield Public Schools will resume in-person as scheduled on Monday following a holiday break that has been dominated by news of the increasing spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
While life in the classroom will continue as before the holiday break, the district is implementing new state guidelines around isolation and quarantining to Pittsfield coronavirus safety policies and offering staff testing kits to use to check for the virus before returning to work.
“[The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] has made no changes to their expectations on in-person learning,” Eric Lamoureaux, the district’s emergency and safety coordinator, said in an email Wednesday evening. “School will resume in-person as planned on Monday.”
The district updated its isolation requirements for students or staff members with a positive coronavirus result and close contacts to match new state guidance released Thursday afternoon that matches the current thinking from the Center from Disease Control and Prevention.
Under new state protocols if someone tests positive for the coronavirus they are required to self-isolate for five days following the positive test. On the sixth day a student or staff member can return to school only if they are symptom-free and continue to wear a mask for the next five days.
The Pittsfield school district said that schools “will make arrangements for lunch time” for people who have returned to school and are completing the five-day masking period.
Low participation rate in Berkshire County schools' pooled testing means the program, long touted by the state, still can’t quite serve as the testing safety net that school, district and state officials had hoped for.
For close contacts of COVID-positive students or staff, district rules have been tweaked slightly to account for vaccination status. Fully vaccinated people without symptoms only need to monitor for symptoms for 10 days while continuing to go to school as normal.
Unvaccinated students and staff can choose to do the district’s test and stay program — which is a daily test for five days after contact — for in-school contacts only. A negative result each day allows students and staff to stay in school through the testing period.
School community members can opt in to the test and stay program by visiting the district’s website and filling out an online consent form.
If school members choose not to do the test and stay program, they must quarantine outside of school for five days. After the five days of test and stay or out of school quarantine, students and staff are allowed to return to school as long as they mask for an additional five days.
The Pittsfield American Federation of School Employees published an email on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon from the superintendent to the union, letting the union president know that the district would be providing free at home coronavirus test kits to all district staff on Friday.
“We will offer these kits to all staff on Friday morning so they may test on Sunday night before returning to school,” Curtis wrote in the email. “This is OPTIONAL of course.”
Curtis confirmed that the district would be giving district employees tests in an email to The Eagle on Thursday.
About 70 staff members have reported a coronavirus case since the start of this school year. Of the staff cases this year, about 20 have been reported in the last two weeks.
The majority of coronavirus cases reported in the school community this year come from students. The district has enrolled 4,747 in-person students this year and about 1 in 10 of those students has reported a coronavirus case in the first semester.
Only a handful of students at Morningside Community School remain out of class after the Thanksgiving break. The majority of the school's coronavirus cases have recovered after an outbreak late last month.
Cases have been particularly high in district elementary schools where until recently the majority of the student population was ineligible for coronavirus vaccines. Elementary students make up about 50 percent of the in-person student population but have accounted for about 60 percent of all cases in the district.
Though that’s not to say that the situation in all elementary schools is the same. At Capeless Elementary School 14 students or about 8.8 percent of the student body has reported a coronavirus case. At Morningside Elementary School 61 students or about 18 percent of the student body has reported a case.