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(Jan. 22, 2021) Approximately 30 percent of the county’s public school students were in the first wave of those returning to the classroom on Tuesday as part of Stage Two of the school system’s “Responsible Return” model.

Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor told the Worcester County Board of Education on Tuesday that faculty and staff returned to schools last week to prepare for the first wave of students in in-person instruction.

“I continue to be so proud of the work our administrators, our teachers and our support staff are doing to ensure our classrooms and our schools as a whole are safe places for learning,” he said.

In addition, as of Monday, education staff can be vaccinated as part of the Phase 1B vaccine distribution group.

“We are committed to ensuring each and every one of our employees has access to the vaccine should they choose to receive it,” Taylor said. “I want to thank our local health department for partnering with us in this endeavor.”

He added that school-based vaccine clinics are being planned for faculty and staff.

“It is still critically important for everyone to remember the four W’s: when sick, stay home; wear your masks; wash your hands; and watch your distance.” Taylor said. “These are simple acts that each one of us can do to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us and to keep our schools safely open for in-person learning.”

In addition, Dr. Dwayne Abt, chief safety and human relations officer of the school system, provided a monthly safety update at the school board meeting.

Abt said training about covid safety protocols has been taking place for several months.

“We also have trained our school deputies back on the seventh of this month,” he said. “Our food service staff will be trained this week, and our substitute teachers will be required to watch a recorded video with training.”

The training video was emailed to all active substitute teachers on Tuesday morning.

According to Taylor’s announcement to families on Jan. 15, “all students – both in-person and those engaged in distance learning – [received] a leveled training first thing on Tuesday to brush up on our health and safety procedures.”

Furthermore, Worcester County Public Schools worked with the Worcester County Health Department to offer covid-19 drive-through testing at Stephen Decatur High School on Seahawk Road in Berlin on Jan. 13 for employees and students.

“We tested 71 staff members and 12 students,” Abt said.

As for Worcester Preparatory School on South Main Street in Berlin, Head of School Dr. John McDonald said no testing or vaccine clinics are planned on-site at this time in partnership with the local health department.

“We would be interested, but if our people are going to be able to get vaccinated [through the health department’s clinics], we may not have the need,” he said. “If they asked us, we’d be certainly happy to facilitate.”

Currently, school personnel are scheduling appointments for the health department’s clinics.

“It’s worked out well this week because in our upper and middle school we have testing, which ends at noon, so our upper and middle school teachers have been going in the afternoon,” McDonald said.

He added that about 98 percent of staff members expressed interest in receiving the vaccine and roughly 30 percent of them have received the vaccine as of Wednesday morning.

Worcester Preparatory students returned to in-person learning on Jan. 11. There have not been any incidents of covid-19 reported at the school since transitioning back to the classroom.

“I just appreciate all our families following protocols, and we’re continuing to do our protocols here,” McDonald said, including maintaining a six-foot distance, using air scrubbers and desk dividers and wearing masks.

Most Blessed Sacrament Catholic School on Racetrack Road in Berlin announced on Tuesday that a student and a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus after students returned to in-person instruction on Jan. 11. All close contacts of the student and staff member are being notified and may have to quarantine, according to a letter from Principal Kathleen Manns.

“Most Blessed Sacrament adheres to strict cleaning, social distancing, and hygiene protocols,” Manns wrote. “This is our best defense against COVID-19 and its spread. Building access continues to be restricted to students and school personnel only. Our school building is cleaned regularly throughout the day and after school hours; deep cleaning is done as a precaution when an incident occurs.”

Amanda Evans, director of admissions and advancement at the private school, said many teachers and staff have expressed interest in receiving the covid-19 vaccine.

“A few have received their appointments and will receive the vaccine this week,” she said. “At this point, we have not been asked by the health department to be a vaccine site.”

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