Updates from the Superintendent

March 25, 2020

Dear Winchester Families:

Governor Baker just announced school closures will continue until 5/4/20 at the earliest.  More details from state education officials will follow tomorrow.. 

Let’s all take a deep breath! Students, teachers, staff members, and parents are already doing excellent work in the new normal. This lengthy closure will lead some families to advocate for a quick move to more structured academics, but please be patient as we work to meet the complex needs of our nearly 5,000 students, over 800 of whom have identified disabilities.. We look forward to your feedback. Please click here for the survey, which will remain open for a week.  Teachers will also ask students for informal feedback about what is working well for them and what they would like to see in the future. Please continue  to share your kind words and maintain your faith in us. We vow to come out stronger and more successful than we started this school year as we take risks, learn, and grow together.

Judith A. Evans

Superintendent

March 24, 2020

In response to Governor Baker’s Stay at Home Advisory, Winchester Public Schools is making modifications to how we are providing breakfast and lunch meals to students who participate in the Free & Reduced Nutrition Program. Tomorrow’s meal distribution will include meals for the remainder of the week. Beginning on Monday, March 30th, food will be provided for meals to be assembled at home on a weekly basis. This service will be available through home delivery only.  Winchester’s Got Lunch is providing this free service. Should families wish to sign up for this service who do not already have home delivery, please contact Ellen Whittemore at ewhittemore@winchesterps.org and arrangements will be made.

The Council of Social Concern, who provides services to the Winchester and Woburn communities, will continue to provide support to families in with emergency boxes of food and additional resources that may be necessary. In addition, the EnKa Society and Winchester Got Lunch will continue to support families. The contact information for these organizations is below.

We are appreciative of the support of our community partners and grateful or the support that they offer our families and members of the community. Should members of the community wish to make donations to support community organizations, donations may be made to the following organizations:

Council of Social Concern
2 Merrimac Street
Woburn, MA 01801
781-935-6495 (Phone)
http://www.socialconcern.org

EnKa Society
1037 Main Street
Winchester, MA 01890
781-729-6146
https://enkasociety.wildapricot.org

Winchester Got Lunch
P.O. Box 322
Winchester, MA 01890
http://winchestergotlunch.org

March 13, 2020

Dear Winchester Families:

We would like to share information with families about plans to support nutrition and technology access during the two-week district closure. Please click Lunch  for more about breakfast/lunch provisions for students who receive free/reduced price lunch. Questions about this program should be directed to ewhittemore@winchesterps.org. Other families may find themselves in need of additional supports in the coming weeks, so our community partners have stepped up to help. Please see contact list in the Lunch link if you would like to donate or support.

Families in need of technology devices or Internet access support for distance learning should check for an e-mail survey later today or contact jelineema@winchesterps.org. More information will be sent to families early next week about expectations for continuation of learning during the closure. Our teachers are working together very hard to plan for exciting, innovative, and helpful activities for our students and we are excited and amazed by the energy we see from them.

All school and central office buildings will be closed for public access next week, except for the WHS lobby during food distribution times and a during a window for parents/students to pick up needed materials at each school as communicated by principals. If you need to reach us, we will monitor voice mail and e-mail daily, so please reach out to our teachers, principals, and central office personnel as needed. I hope to send out more public health guidelines about social distancing so we can do all we can to stop the spread of illness. In the meantime, stay strong, lean on each other, and wash your hands.

With respect, 

Judith A. Evans, Ed.D.

Superintendent

March 12, 2020

Dear Winchester Families and Colleagues:

The town of Winchester’s Emergency Operations group, which includes representatives from the Select Board, School Committee, Town Manager, Superintendent, Public Safety, state legislators, and Public Health, met today to discuss proposed town actions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was unanimous agreement from those present that additional social distancing measures are needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. 

Effective Monday, March 16, 2020 through Friday, March 27, 2020 all Winchester Public Schools will be closed. This includes all classes, athletics, and activities. This initial two-week closure may be extended based on the orders of government or public health officials. Many local communities have also decided to close schools for the next two weeks, including Lexington, Belmont, Burlington, and Bedford. 

At tomorrow’s professional development sessions, teachers will work to identify content and strategies for distance learning and we will notify families about these plans next week. It is our hope to continue to support student learning and maintain strong teacher-student relationships during this school closure period. 

We recognize that this closure will be very difficult and stressful for families, but our first priority is to support the health of all involved. In the coming days we will make and communicate plans to support special student populations and their families. School principals will communicate times early next week when buildings will be open for students to pick up any materials they may need during the closure. 

This has been and will continue to be one of the most challenging and uncertain times many of us have ever faced. Let’s please remember to be kind and patient with one another as we navigate these complex issues.  Thank you in advance for your understanding and support. More detailed information about the closure will be sent to you in the coming days.

Sincerely,

Judith A. Evans, Ed.D.

Superintendent

March 11, 2020

Joint Press Release  from the Town of Winchester and Winchester Public Schools for March 11, 2020: Ambrose School COVID-19 Update

Late this afternoon the Massachusetts Department of Public Health notified the town that an Ambrose School student tested presumptive positive for COVID-19. The student has been consistently asymptomatic and has been deemed by DPH to be at very low risk of transmission to others. The student has been out of school since March 6, 2020. Out of an abundance of caution, the district will close school for all students and staff members of Ambrose School on Thursday, March 12, 2020 to allow time to complete appropriate notifications to close contacts and conduct deep cleaning. Other than Ambrose, all other district schools will be open tomorrow (3/12/2020) as usual.

The Winchester Health Department is in the process of notifying close contacts of this student, who will be advised to self-quarantine for a prescribed period of time. Close contacts include the student’s direct classmates, teacher, and several other staff members.  Students and teachers in other classrooms at Ambrose and in the district are not deemed to be at risk and will not be asked to self-quarantine.

This action is taken after consultation with public health and town officials and aligns with the recommended course of action from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Other than the two adults described in yesterday’s notice (one of whom is this student’s parent), no other district students or parents have presumptive or verified COVID-19 positive results.

All Winchester Public Schools will be closed on Friday, 3/13/2020 for a long-planned teacher professional development day. This teacher meeting time will be used to develop plans and protocols for distance learning in the event of a school/district closure.

Given the current course of COVID-19, it was inevitable that it would impact our community, including our school district, staff and students.  This is still difficult news to learn about and share. Please know that both town and school personnel are working to plan, prepare, and respond to this evolving situation and are here to support all members of our community.

A few important reminders:

  • Parents, students, and staff members who are ill with fever, cough, or shortness of breath should first contact their primary care physician, who will offer advice about treatment and testing.
  • Questions about school issues should be directed to the building principal and/or nurses.
  • Questions about public health should be directed to the Winchester Health Department.
  • The town website has the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 here: https://www.winchester.us/coronavirus

March 11, 2020 

Dear Winchester Families and Staff Members: 

The Department of Public Health (DPH) has notified us that two adult Winchester residents have tested positive for COVID-19. The DPH results are considered presumptive positive and both samples will now be sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for confirmation. Both residents are isolating at home and are experiencing mild illness. All individuals who are considered close contacts of these Winchester residents are being notified by public health officials and will be given appropriate instructions. Here is a link to the town’s press release: https://www.winchester.us/DocumentCenter/View/4375/COVID-19-update-3-10-20-Cases 

At this time, there are no known Winchester students or staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19. All Winchester Schools will be open as usual today, March 11, 2020. We will continue to follow cleaning and disinfecting protocols and follow public health guidelines as directed. 

The Department of Public Health (DPH) reminds us that anyone who feels ill should remain at home and call their primary care provider to see if they meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing. For more information, visit www.mass.gov/2019coronavirus.

We are currently reviewing state and national guidance on the advisability of cancelling or postponing large-group meetings and domestic travel, including our planned grade 8 trip to Washington, D.C. It is likely that many group events and travel planned for the coming weeks will not take place as scheduled, which will disappoint many. We continue to work closely with the DPH and town officials to implement recommended actions to keep everyone safe and healthy. We appreciate your patience as we consider each planned event carefully and will provide appropriate notice about rescheduling as needed. 

While some parents are urging me to close all schools immediately, this course of action is not currently recommended by the DPH and would have significant consequences for many in our community, especially students with disabilities, low-income-students, and students receiving mental health supports. Any decision to close schools due to community illness must be made in consultation with the DPH. Please know that I am in daily contact with public health, public safety, and other town officials and departments and we are preparing for any number of actions that might be needed. Facing a new illness like COVID-19 naturally provokes fear and concern in our school community, both for our students, our families, and ourselves. In the coming days and weeks we are likely to see more instances of illness. Please try to avoid spreading rumors, speculating about the health of individual community members, stigmatizing those who become ill, and comparing our town’s responses with the actions of others. We’ll get through this together. 

With respect,
Judith A. Evans, Ed.D.
Superintendent

March 11, 2020

Dear Winchester Parents and Colleagues:
Thank you for your support as we work very closely with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and other town officials to react to the recommendations of state and federal authorities related to COVID-19. This is an evolving situation and we are working hard to provide clear and accurate information. We have a few updates related to scheduled district activities in the coming weeks. Due to DPH/CDC social distancing recommendations, we are canceling or postponing many large group activities and limiting interactions between our students and members of the public where possible. 

Listed below are a few of the modified, deferred, or cancelled events.
Events with NO CHANGE planned at this time:
• Kidsborough before and after-school programs
• School-based after-school enrichment for small groups
• SAT Testing (done in small groups in classrooms) 

Events/Practices cancelled or rescheduled:
• Out-of-town field trips, including the grade 8 Washington D.C. trip.
• Large group events where we cannot provide opportunities for "social distancing" and/or that include community members (plays, musical performances, kindergarten transition night, etc.) Principals will share more information on re-scheduling of individual events for their schools.
• All-school or grade-level meetings.
• Limiting access for volunteers and visitors to schools/classrooms.
• Suspending many building rentals to community groups, since our capacity to support deep cleaning after each use is limited based on current staffing levels.
• Elementary parent conferences are still scheduled, but will be moved to phone conferences. Guidance on Student Absences
• If students are ill, we expect that they will stay home until fully recovered. Make-up work and grading practices will be adjusted to meet the needs of returning students.
• Some families may opt to keep their children absent from school due to health concerns. While we lack the capacity to provide individual learning experiences for absent students during such absences, we will be flexible about grading and make-up work upon their return. School Closure/Distance Learning
• While we hope to avoid school closures, we are planning for ways to provide meaningful technology-based learning experiences for our students if needed. Stay tuned for more information on this topic. 

I appreciate the many e-mails and calls of support this morning and your understanding that this is a complex situation that will require close attention, much collaboration with town officials, flexibility, and patience from all of us.

Sincerely,
Judith A. Evans, Ed.D.
Superintendent

March 8, 2020 

Dear Winchester Families and Colleagues: 

I am writing to provide an update on the district’s response to the COVID-19 virus for this school week. As is the case with many other local communities, the town health department is assessing possible COVID-19 exposure/illness among members of our town population. At this time, we have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among our students, staff members, or town residents. No school closures are recommended or anticipated at this time. 

I would like to emphasize that the town and schools are working together to follow all Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Public Health protocols to limit the spread of illness through extra cleaning and disinfection protocols each day. The Department of Public Works (DPW) continues to:
• Disinfect touch points several times each day, using approved methods/materials.
• Use electrostatic disinfectant foggers in our schools. 

You can help keep everyone well by reminding your children to:
• wash their hands frequently and well
• sneeze/cough into a tissue or elbow
• stay home when ill. 

While we hope it will not be needed, the leadership team has been working on plans to address potential school closures or extended student absences. We expect to release a draft plan later this week. These plans include:
• possible distance learning options
• special education/mental health support
• food service (especially for students eligible for free/reduced lunch)
• transportation
• business office functions
• personnel support. 

In uncertain times such as this, our greatest strength is our capacity to support one another with calm, patience, and focus. We are all very concerned about our students, our families, and ourselves and want to do all we can to keep everyone healthy. We can best support one another by avoiding the spread of rumors or speculating about the health of individual community members, stigmatizing those who become ill, or by comparing our community’s responses with the actions of other towns. 

As always, individual concerns about your family should be brought to the attention of the school principal/nurse, as should questions about any planned absences. We are in daily contact with public health staff members and will share with you any additional news as it becomes available. 

With respect,
Judith A. Evans, Ed.D.
Superintendent

March 4, 2020 

Dear Winchester Families and Colleagues: 

As promised, I am writing to provide an update on the latest guidance from state and federal officials and public health departments about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). While the risk to Massachusetts residents continues to be low, here are a few important reminders and updates: 

• Students and staff members who are sick should stay home from school.
• Avoid close contact with those who are already sick.
• Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with a tissue or the crook of your arm.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. 

Here are some CDC fact sheets to help students, families, and staff understand COVID-19, along with steps we can take to protect ourselves:
• What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID19): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf
• What to do if you are sick: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/what-youshould-do.pdf
• Stop the spread of germs – help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/stop-the-spread-of-germs.pdf 

International Travel/Hosting/In-country Travel To slow the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) into the United States, CDC is working with state and local public health partners to implement after-travel health precautions. Beginning with travel on March 2, 2020, students and staff members will be asked to stay home for a period of 14 days from the time they left an area with widespread or ongoing community spread (Level 3 Travel Health Notice). Countries that have a Level 3 Travel Health Notice (widespread, ongoing transmission): 

• China
• Iran
• Italy
• South Korea 

While the governor has requested the colleges and school postpone planned international travel for students, no such trips are planned for Winchester students for the remainder of the school year. We are currently reviewing plans for hosting French exchange students in town later this month and will have a decision on this early next week, after consulting with the appropriate officials. The grade 8 Washington trip is similarly under review, with no current restrictions on this type of travel being recommended at this time. The middle school administration will provide additional details on contingency plans should this advisory change.

Preparedness
It is important to know that the district is working in partnership with public health officials to review, update, and implement emergency operations plans (EOPs).  These plans include:
• Establishing procedures for students and staff who are sick at school or at home. Providing training for nurses on specific protocols to manage those who present with illness.
• Performing enhanced environmental cleaning, including daily cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, light switches, countertops). 

We care deeply about the health and well-being of our students and staff members and will remain vigilant about conferring with public health officials, our school nurses, and federal/state officials to monitor and respond to new information as it becomes available. If you have any questions about your child’s health, please contact your school nurse and building principal. 

Thank you in advance for your patience and cooperation as we face this challenge together. 

Sincerely,
Judith A. Evans, Ed.D.
Superintendent