Superintendent's Update - December 21, 2021

Dear Shrewsbury Families & Colleagues,

In my recent visits to schools, it is clear that our staff continues to do a masterful job keeping our students engaged with meaningful learning, despite the day-to-day staff shortages and all of the ongoing challenges we are experiencing this year.  As we come up on a much-needed vacation, I encourage families and staff to disengage from school during the time off and spend time on the things that bring you joy and peace. 

Please note the following information regarding our commitment to keeping our schools open as we continue to navigate the pandemic.  Tomorrow, I will send additional information regarding managing COVID-19 issues during the school vacation.

Commitment to keeping our schools open: Our district's stated primary goal this year is to "Provide full-time, in-school learning for students with minimal disruptions, while using mitigation strategies to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.”  We have seen an increase in cases after Thanksgiving, and there is a lot in the news right now about the Omicron variant and its potential impact in the coming weeks and months.  However, I want to be clear that, contrary to some rumors and speculation, there is no plan to shift any of our schools to remote or hybrid instruction, for the following key reasons:

    A) The risk of severe illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19 for children and for all vaccinated individuals is low, and so far it appears that this is also the case for Omicron; however, the negative impacts of remote school on student learning and student mental health are significant.  See this recent article from the New York Times for a perspective on this from a Harvard University public health expert.

    B) We have strong mitigation strategies in place, including the Test and Stay program, which is now being recommended nationally by the CDC as a way to keep schools open.  As shown in our most recent report, so far it has preserved over 3,700 learning days for unvaccinated students who otherwise would have been at home quarantining.  It also has demonstrated that the likelihood of an unvaccinated individual contracting COVID-19 from a close contact at school is very low, as only 0.7% of over 3,800 tests have been positive.

    C) As indicated in our latest dashboard, out of the 338 total cases in our district as of the end of last week, only 11% of them have been identified as probably due to transmission in school; in other words, spread of the virus at school is much less likely than outside of school.  Because of the mitigation strategies we have in place, being in school is likely safer for most students, and a closure of schools without any corresponding restrictions on life outside of school is not likely to reduce infections (and could actually increase them).

    D) As younger students ages 5-12 become fully vaccinated in the coming weeks, and more students 16 and older and staff members get boosters, the risk of severe illness or death will go down further. Also of note is that of our student cases so far this year, 85% have been in students who either were not eligible yet for vaccination or had not been vaccinated.

    E) Finally, in addition to the negative effects on student learning and mental health, remote learning is a massive disruption to the lives of many of our students’ and our staff’s families, creating huge issues with childcare and work. 

We face a challenging environment, and we will continue to monitor the situation and do our best to maintain a safe, healthy, and supportive environment at school.  For the reasons listed above, I do not foresee a shift to remote or hybrid learning, unless the situation becomes so extreme that we are compelled to do so.  Thank you for your continued attention to following public health guidelines to minimize the risk of COVID-19, and thank you for your continued support of our schools.


Joe Sawyer
Superintendent of Schools

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