With some in-person learning set to resume this fall, Hopkinton schools turn to innovation to keep COVID-19 at bay

HOPKINTON, Mass. — When the Hopkinton school district opens its doors for hybrid learning next month, administrators there say they’ll be in unchartered territory.

“No single person is an expert in running schools in a pandemic,” said Carol Cavanaugh, Hopkinton schools superintendent.

But with COVID-19 still a threat, the district is leaving nothing to chance.

“So every one of our students is going to be wearing a mask,” said Cavanaugh. “I know some of the guidance said that kids who are in kindergarten or first grade didn’t have to wear them. The Hopkinton schools expectation is that everyone will wear a mask unless for special education and social emotional reasons you cannot.”

They’ve installed plexiglass on desks, socially distanced classrooms and buses ‚and stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfectant. But it’s a few unique safety features they’ve implemented that they say will help further protect students and staff.

“So when students come down to eat lunch they’ll use the QR code, which goes to a google doc. The students will put their name in it,” said Evan Bishop, principal at Hopkinton High School who demonstrated the QR barcode for Boston 25 News. “So we know who’s going to be sitting at what seat and what day and we’ll have that data over a 14 day stretch.”

Bishop says the feature will help schools with contact tracing.

According to health experts, a robust contact tracing program is critical to safely reopening schools, particularly in the absence of wide scale and frequent testing of students and staff.

Cavanaugh tells Boston 25 her district got roughly $900,000 in CARES Act, or Coronavirus Relief, money and they have already spent over $100,000 of it on personal protection equipment (PPE) alone. Each of the district’s 4,000 students will receive their own face shields on the first day of class.

She also says her district did not skimp on sanitization and disinfection. The purchase of several electrostatic sprayers will help ensure every corner and crevice in every room in the district’s five school building get thoroughly cleaned.

“We have mitigated risks to a point where I think parents should feel comfortable sending their kids to school,” said Cavanaugh.

In addition to the added health and safety measures, the superintendent has also asked families to begin practicing a “soft quarantine” in the two weeks before schools reopen, urging parents to avoid large crowds and indoor spaces without masks, and avoid travel to states with high community spread.

“The schools have done everything we can to get kids in schools,” said Cavanaugh. “What we need now is a commitment from families and students that they’ll also practice safety not only in the building but also outside the building at home.”

The district said it plans to boost its custodial staff and is preparing to hire additional school nurses to help identify potential cases and assist with contact tracing.

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