Dear ARPS Community:
We are excited to welcome back ALL of our students and staff for full-time, in-person learning in a few weeks! This will be our first in-person year with the new school start times approved by the School Committee last winter. Student arrival will be at 8:10 a.m. at the elementary schools (8:30 a.m. for preschool students) with dismissal at 2:40 p.m. Please watch for detailed information from school principals for families who plan to transport their children to and from school since the drop-off and pick-up times may differ slightly for them (as they did last year), given the high number of cars and limited drop-off and pick-up locations. For those who have available space in their cars, carpooling will truly help with traffic at arrival and dismissal and may resolve the capacity and timing challenges of when students can be dropped off and picked up each day.
At the secondary level, school will start at 9:05 a.m., with dismissal at 3:35 p.m. Early-release day dismissal times are 12:30 p.m. at the elementary level and 1:20 p.m. at the secondary level. I am also pleased to remind you that the federal program providing free meals (breakfast and lunch) for all students will continue during the 2021-2022 school year.
We continue to focus on the health and safety of the ARPS community. To that end, ARPS staff have been working diligently to ensure that the physical environment in every building is cleaned, sanitized and arranged in accordance with the health and safety guidelines provided by local, state and national health experts. That means we will be maintaining social distancing to the extent possible in our schools, consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At the elementary level, that will mean that classrooms, including those in the primary grades, will have desks instead of tables in the primary seating areas. Additionally, we will continue to encourage outdoor learning.
As noted in my letter to the ARPS community at the end of July, multiple organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatricians and the CDC have released recommendations on the topic of face coverings. These recommendations include wearing face coverings indoors, including those who are vaccinated. The same guidance was provided to me by the Town of Amherst Health Director; ARPS Nurse Leader Robbin Suprenant; and a team of local physicians. Based on that expert guidance, face coverings will continue to be required indoors and on buses for students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, at the start of the school year.* Face coverings will not be required while outdoors, but students and staff can opt to maintain face coverings all day if they so choose.
The ventilation in indoor spaces across the district has improved significantly over the past 18 months. Much like last year, we are using multiple measures to ensure proper ventilation, such as HEPA purification systems, opening windows when possible, and improving unit ventilators in the spaces where issues were noted when professionally evaluated. I am glad to report that many of our large group spaces that were not accessible last year, such as several gymnasiums, auditoriums, and cafeterias, can be utilized this year due to improved ventilation in these spaces.
If there is a positive case of COVID in our schools, contact tracing will continue to be completed by the Town of Amherst Health Department, in conjunction with our talented nursing staff. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is slated to release specific school guidelines that will be implemented by the Health Department regarding topics such as quarantining. Those guidelines will be shared with the ARPS community before the start of the school year.
The health and safety requirements outlined here are subject to change during the 2021-2022 school year as more information becomes available regarding local vaccination rates among staff, students, and the community; local case counts and community spread; and as additional guidance is received from public health authorities given the evolving status of the virus/variants.
Finally, The medical community has emphasized time and time again that vaccines are currently the best defense against COVID-19 and its variants, including Delta. If you are above the age of 12 and have not yet been vaccinated, I urge you to consult with your family medical practitioner about the advisability of vaccination. Unfortunately, our youngest learners are not able to be vaccinated at this time, so those who can be vaccinated need to do our part to keep them safe. For more information about the safety and effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine, visit the Trust the Facts, Get the Vax website. If you wish to schedule a vaccination, please visit the state’s Covid 19 Vaccine Finder Site.
Dr. Michael Morris
Superintendent of Schools
*Consistent with last year, masks are not required for individuals with disabilities that prevent them from wearing face coverings.