COVID-19 outbreak at Jacques; school remains open

MILFORD – Despite the fact that nine staff member cases of COVID-19 were reported at Jacques Memorial Elementary School as of Jan. 28, including principal Tim O’Connell, the school remains open under the direction of Milford school superintendent Dr. Jessica Huizenga.

The Milford school board met on Feb. 1 and for the first time, the district’s four school nurses attended the meeting and told the board that they are concerned that they cannot assure the safety and health of school children in a full-return with a three foot social distancing model.

School board member Kevin St. Onge said that there is concern that as the pandemic stretches into its eleventh month, Monday’s school board meeting was the first time that the school board and the community heard from the district’s four nurses- the only school health professionals that the district employs.

“We’ve been relying upon the superintendent to keep us informed and she’s been relying upon local health officials, specifically the police captain and the fire chief,” he said. “I’m sure they have excellent information and can speak to data points and trends, but they can’t speak to the impact of losing nine staff members and wiping out the entire central office staff at one school as well as a number of teachers and support personnel.”

In a letter posted on Facebook on Jan. 28, Huizenga wrote in part, “We just received word that we have another positive Covid-19 case at the Jacques Memorial School. The last time the individual was in school was Friday, January 22nd. Close contacts have been notified and will be quarantining. Local Health officials have been consulted. The school has been deep cleaned since this individual was last in, and we plan to continue in the hybrid model this afternoon and tomorrow.”

St. Onge said too much emphasis has been placed on studies and articles that have little to do with Milford.

“This school board and I are trying to look at things a little differently than the board in the past,” he said. “One of our board members is very adamant that we should be returning to school with a full in-person return.”

While that may be the goal of most members of the community, St. Onge included, he indicated that in order for parents to make decisions about the relative safety of their children in school, they need the proper information.

“There has been a disconnect,” he stated,” between what the board has been hearing from the administrators and the superintendent and really what is being communicated to the community.”

St. Onge has two children who are students in the Milford school district.

“We were given an academic choice form as parents,” he said. “That form asked us to make a binding decision in January on what academic modality we wanted our children to follow in April. We don’t really have a good handle on the trends today much less than what they will be in April. For that reason, I think the administration did the community a disservice by structuring their survey and then the academic choice form that way.”

Numbers should be trending in the right direction, St. Onge asserts.

“We can talk about CDC guidelines and HHS guidelines, and we can listen to statistics by Dr. Fauci and others,” he said. “But we can’t throw common sense out the window. Common sense tells me that with nine staff members – by my count I thought it was twelve – but people seem to be going with nine, in one week, being removed from their roles in school for some period of time those facts don’t lie.”

St. Onge noted that the nurses spoke at the meeting on Monday, subjecting themselves to criticism, because it’s an “unpopular decision.”

“They believe, and I think we should be listening to our health care professionals, they believe that it is unsafe to send our children back to school with a three foot social distancing model,” he said. “We should be listening to that.”

The trending of close contacts and contagions in Milford schools happened in January when the district was primarily remote.

“It was at the recommendation of our police captain and our fire chief that we be remote in this time period,” St. Onge explained. “And yet the numbers were trending in the wrong direction. It may be with warm weather, it may be with vaccines, that the numbers will go in the other direction, and that’s fantastic. But we can’t ask parents to make binding decisions until we actually know what the environment is going to look like.”