Fearing Post-Holiday Virus Surge, Haverhill Revises In-Person Learning Schedules

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Haverhill school students will not be returning to their classrooms until after the middle of January.

The Haverhill School Committee met last night to reconsider its previous decision to have students return to a hybrid learning model on Jan. 4. Many parents and teachers protested that decision, saying returning to any form of in-person education so soon after the holidays would put students and staff at further risk of spreading COVID-19. Lauren Sanguedolce, a Haverhill school math teacher, expressed her opinion.

“Tonight, you need to make a very important decision using your brains and your hearts. You must vote to keep school buildings closed until it is safe. That means keeping all staff members and students home until further notice,” she said.

Christen St. Pierre Molina, a cohort C teacher, has been working in the classroom for the past few months. She told the Committee that she and her coworkers are finding it very difficult.

“The stress of this in-person instruction during this time is too much to bear. Staff are in tears every day of bringing this virus home to their families, including me,” she said.

Committee members were persuaded by the comments, but divided on when would be the safest time to return, eventually settling on a phased-in approach where cohort C students will go back to class Jan. 19, grades K-8 on Jan. 25 and high school students returning Feb. 1.

In addition, School Superintendent Margaret Marotta introduced a new method of testing students for COVID-19 at last night’s meeting. Called “Pool Testing,” it allows students and teachers to test as a single unit.

“A number of specimens are taken and they’re tested all at once and that test would come out as either positive or negative and if it was negative, you would know with good certainty that all the people that were in the pool were negative,” she explained.

The procedure requires only swabbing the immediate inside of the nose and will, for the most part, be performed by the students themselves.

The testing program will be provided free of charge initially and the city can decide if it wishes to continue after that.

The Committee voted 4-2 to try the testing plan once students return to the classrooms with committee members Toni Sapienza-Donais and Maura Ryan-Ciardiello opposed.

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