'Herd immunity' message confuses parents

Screenshot of the graphic Andover Interim Superintendent Claudia Bach sent in her email to parents Monday.

Andover Interim Superintendent Claudia Bach released a letter by email Monday telling parents the district's students would not fully return to in-school classes until "we reach herd immunity via vaccinations."

Caught by surprise, parents took to social media and emailed school officials expressing confusion, frustration and even some outrage after receiving the correspondence.

“The thing that really annoyed me is that she is claiming we can’t go back to school until we reach herd immunity," said Leslie Scully, a parent of three children in the local schools. "We don’t have herd immunity for other viruses —especially with the mutations who knows if that is even going to happen." 

Scully said at first she appreciated the correspondence and Bach's effort to keep parents informed. However, she said, she quickly became confused by a chart showing that five-day, full-time school wouldn't be achievable until herd immunity – defined by the nation's leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci as about 75 to 80% of people having been vaccinated. 

"That was a metric that was out of nowhere,” she said.

Bach, who took over as interim superintendent this year after former Superintendent Sheldon Berman left the position, said she meant Monday's letter to be a continuation of her conversations with the school community concerning its evolving educational model and ultimate return to full-time in-person learning. 

However, she said, her message was largely misunderstood and on Tuesday she was busy drafting a response to upset parents.

Bach's original letter summarizes that the district is still planning different avenues to get more children into class more often. She explains there is no clear timeline or expected date as to when all students can resume five days a week.

Her graphic shows students gradually gaining more classs time from the current hybrid model, then to "small increases for in-student learning in schools, according to each school’s capacity," and then to full five-day-a-week learning. Each next step can be taken as public health concerns allow, according to the graphic.

“I perhaps assumed that that would make sense to everyone," Bach said. "So I need to be sending out a letter to parents to clarify what I meant. I certainly want to continue engaging with them.”

In her Tuesday correspondence, she especially sought to clarify that she still has the goal of returning to full-day school by the end of the academic year.

Rhonda Musikar-Rosner, another mother of three Andover students, eagerly awaited that explanation as she sat with her frustration with what she described as seemingly never-ending obstacles.

“Once this condition is met is there going to be another condition?" Musikar-Rosner questioned in an interview Tuesday. "It’s gone on for a year and I don’t think our kids can wait anymore.”

Bach said she brought two specific ideas back to the district staff after recent meetings. The goal was to have those ideas vetted for potential implementation to increase in-school time, she said.

However, she would not say what those ideas are when asked by the Andover Townsman.

"We are really needing to stay the course during this very, very difficult dangerous time,” with the state's high COVID-19 case count, she said Tuesday,

Bach said she can envision bringing students back full time before they are vaccinated as long as teachers can be vaccinated and the virus numbers have dropped. 

Currently, there's no FDA approved vaccine for children under 16 years old.

For parents like Scully and Musikar-Rosner, such conceptual ideas don't seem to be enough. They are asking for a concrete timeline of when children might be able to be back in school and both are in favor of distancing student desks 3, rather than 6, feet apart, to allow more students in each classroom.

The School Committee has said bringing back students in such an arrangement wouldn't be fair, because not all of the schools could accommodate all of the children. Also, transportation and teacher staffing are key factors. 

The School Committee sent a letter to state officials in January asking for more guidance. 

“I want (the School Committee) to form a committee with the parents to figure out a way to work together,” Musikar-Rosner said.

Scully also suggested the district put out a new survey asking parents about transportation, and if they want to have their students back full time, so the district could plan for the demand.

“This year might be a wash for every kid academically, it most likely will be," Scully said. "But just to get the morale up, (bringing them back) would be worth it.”

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