Frontier, Union 38 districts recommend masks as COVID-19 cases rise

  • Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2022 11:40:29 AM
Modified: 5/16/2022 11:38:42 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designating Franklin County as “high” risk for COVID-19 exposure, along with the detection of new cases in Union 38 and Frontier Regional school districts, the schools are recommending mask wearing for all students while indoors.

After last week’s Frontier School Committee meeting addressed the increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases at Frontier, and the Deerfield and Conway elementary schools, the district posted on the Frontier Regional School Facebook page that it is now recommending students wear masks, but it is not mandatory.

“We recommend that students wear masks indoors. This is not a mandatory requirement, but given the increase in numbers there is a higher risk of transmission,” the post reads. “We will continue to support families’ decisions around masking but will not discipline students for not wearing a mask.”

Across all five schools in Frontier and Union 38 towns, there were 58 positive cases detected from May 9 to May 13, according to the districts’ COVID-19 dashboard. The majority of cases occurred May 9, with Conway Grammar School, Deerfield Elementary and Frontier detecting 12, 10 and 10 cases, respectively, through pooled testing. Whately and Sunderland elementary schools are averaging from zero to two cases each day.

The 92 cases detected since May 1 top the case totals for April, which saw 75 positive cases over the course of the month — although school vacation in the middle of April meant fewer tests were being conducted. In March, the districts detected 15 cases, according to the dashboard.

School Committee members expressed concern at what they said was a lack of communication between district administrators and families in regard to the increasing COVID-19 cases.

“We’re talking about this as our regularly scheduled School Committee meeting and not as these things happen,” commented member Missy Novak. “I think there has to be more up-front communication. … I think we should at least be notified, both as School Committee members and as parents.”

Superintendent Darius Modestow said he contacted the Deerfield Board of Health after May 2 saw 10 cases detected at Deerfield Elementary, and “that communication is still going on” and families will be kept in the loop.

“I do own the fact that I did not communicate with the School Committee over the weekend,” he said at last week’s meeting. “I did not push for masking in that email because that was not the decision that the Board of Health left me with. … I did not communicate that with all the school committees and I have to own and improve on that.”

Frontier’s Facebook post states “families will be notified by their building principal and students and staff will be strongly encouraged to wear masks as multiple cases increase the likelihood of spread within our classrooms.”

Deerfield Board of Health Chair Carolyn Shores Ness said the district has been in contact with the board and they are “very carefully” monitoring cases. She added this mask recommendation is not mandatory because cases are “scattered” from classroom to classroom at Deerfield Elementary, which indicates transmission is not occurring in the school.

She said the Board of Health will look at cases on a classroom-by-classroom basis and will “make sure parents are as informed as much as possible.”

“It’s really important we keep the schools open,” she said, adding that safety and continuation of school functions are the “No. 1 priority.”

Shores Ness said the board is monitoring the uptick in COVID-19 cases to see if this is a minor surge that subsides in a few weeks before making a decision that could drastically affect graduation and other end-of-year events.

“The only reason we’re doing a recommendation — strongly recommending — is if this is a surge,” Shores Ness explained. “Most of the school events are two or three weeks out. We’re hoping this little mini surge will trend down.”

Shores Ness encouraged those eligible for booster shots to get them at May 20’s vaccine clinic from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Deerfield Elementary. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be available for anyone ages 5 and over. Those interested can register at Walk-in vaccinations will be available, too.



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