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Nashoba Valley school districts prepare to offer coronavirus tests

With pandemic ongoing, school districts keep to hybrid methods and stay vigilant

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GROTON – Students at the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School are back in classrooms, though still only for certain days of the week. Nevertheless, last week’s temporary switch back to remote learning after a mass gathering scare showed school districts are still alert to the changing conditions of the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District confirmed on Tuesday that its high school went back to its hybrid method of alternating between in-person and remote learning as of Monday.

On Jan. 4, Superintendent Laura Chesson made the decision to have the high school go back to fully remote learning for the entirety of last week due to a student having tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a gathering on New Year’s Eve. Chesson made the decision after the district had insufficient time to perform contact tracing and see who else the student came into contact with.

The more direct option for schools is, of course, testing students and staff for the coronavirus. Last Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that weekly COVID-19 pool testing would be available to all Massachusetts schools within the next month. Nashoba Valley school districts are likely not exempt, as Chesson said last week that the Groton-Dunstable district was setting up voluntary testing once a month for symptomatic and asymptomatic staff members. She added that the district plans to offer tests to students and staff who appear to be symptomatic.

Groton-Dunstable is not alone in its efforts. Brad Morgan, superintendent of the North Middlesex Regional School District, said last Friday that he and his other officials have been working on “rolling out” COVID-19 tests to staff and students. The district recently provided its school nurses training to administer coronavirus tests to both students and staff. Its website also has a COVID-19 case dashboard alerting parents and residents of case numbers, which sit at 17 cases among students and staff as of Jan. 12.

“We have had an increase in cases recently, but the number is still low,” Morgan said. “Overall, the schools are in a pretty good spot. The increase is likely because of the Thanksgiving and winter breaks.”

The website’s dashboard notes that North Middlesex Regional High School has the highest number of cases, with eight students having tested positive within the district’s two-week case count. Morgan attributed this factor to high school students being more social outside of the building, along with after-school sports and activities.

“Overall, our parents, students and staff have done a really nice job to keep the numbers down in the district,” he added. “They gave us a heads up if they were doing any travel over the holidays and intended on learning remotely when they return. They don’t have to, but they do because they care about the district.”

Mary Malone, superintendent of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District, said on Tuesday that her schools have not seen a recent uptick in case numbers. Between Sept. 16 last year to last Friday, the district’s positivity rate has been 1.3 percent. Malone added that the district is “exploring” the option of testing students and staff with the Massachusetts Department of Education, hoping the practice can be implemented in the district by the end of the month.

“We’ve had very few close contacts identified in the school and those who have come in close contact with each other have tested negative,” she said. “Our students, teachers and families have been excellent in following state mandates. The students don’t complain when they come in to schools. They’re compliant, engaged and happy to be at school. We’re doing what we have to do to make sure our kids can come to school.”