Halstead-Bentley schools to return to in-person learning Jan. 13

HALSTEAD—The Halstead-Bentley School Board voted 4-3 Friday evening to return to the yellow learning model starting Thursday, Jan. 13. This means all students will return to in-person learning after having been in orange hybrid mode since Nov. 18.

Superintendent Dr. Ron Barry told board members that of the district’s four primary gating criteria, absenteeism and two-week trend were in the green, the county’s positivity rate was in the yellow (8.08 percent) and active cases were in the red (313) as of that afternoon.

The district had two students absent due to a positive COVID-19 case, as of Friday. Students in precautionary quarantine amounted to 10 from the primary school, 19 from the middle school and eight from the high school, with most of these exposures not having taken place at school.

Dr. Barry said numbers were starting to look more like they had in mid-October before the spike that came in November and December. While he called this a positive sign, he said it didn’t mean they were in the clear yet.

Dr. Barry said the district’s recommendation was to move to yellow mode on Thursday of next week.

Board member Gary Warner asked if that date would give teachers, custodial staff and kitchen staff enough time to prepare. Board member Joel Flory suggested waiting until Tuesday, Jan. 19, which would be the first day of the spring semester following a three-day weekend.

Dr. Barry said the advantage to starting Thursday would be that with no students in the buildings on Wednesday, staff would have a day to prepare. He also noted that regarding students’ social-emotional health, the sooner they could return the better.

“Administratively, if I asked the building principals, it probably would be 50/50,” Dr. Barry said.

Hoofer, Kevin Wilson, Tom Wise and Shawn Kohr all voted in favor of starting Thursday.

“I just want to cause the least amount of stress for our teachers,” board member Joy Hoofer said prior to the vote. “If it’s Thursday, that’s awesome. I believe the social-emotional health of our kids is paramount, but I also want to take into consideration our teachers.”

The remaining board members—Flory, Warner and Jennifer Brantley—expressed support for waiting a few extra days and returning to in-person learning on Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Dr. Barry said the district would try to continue adapting to what it’s learned in recent months.

“How do we utilize all of our space, even in the yellow, to provide additional spacing so we don’t get into the same situation where we have 80-90-100 individuals in quarantine at any given time?” Dr. Barry said. “Because if we can keep the local quarantine numbers that are caused by exposure within the district [down] … that’s going to give a better opportunity for our students and staff to be more successful in their learning environment.”

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