Although increased cases of COVID-19 in Haverhill have placed the city in a high-risk zone, there is no evidence the virus is spreading among students in schools, Superintendent Margaret Marotta said.
Marotta said the state education department may have alarmed Haverhill families when it released information leading to a TV report about coronavirus in Haverhill schools. The report said that in a one-week period, Haverhill had the highest number of students in the state testing positive since schools in Massachusetts reopened.
Marotta said there is no cause for alarm because the TV report was erroneous due to incorrect information provided to the media by state education officials.
"Part of the confusion was that two weeks of data for Haverhill got lumped into one week, when for other communities the data was spread over two weeks," the superintendent said.
Marotta said the state told the media on Thursday of last week that eight Haverhill students tested positive for the virus in a one-week period, when in fact two students tested positive one week and six tested positive the following week. In addition, the students who tested positive had circumstances that limited the possibility of them spreading the virus at school, she said.
"Contrary to what was reported, only three of the eight students reported were actually in school during a period of time when they could have been considered being positive," she said. "In each of these three cases, all protocols and procedures were followed and those who were considered close contacts have been notified. All three of these students showed no signs of COVID-19 and tested as precautionary measures."
She said the other five students who tested positive were not in school during a period when they were considered a contagious risk.
"We have reached out to DESE (state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) and the department is in agreement that the reported data is incorrect," she said of information suggesting all eight infectious cases happened in the same week.
Marotta said she wants to reassure parents and other members of the community that cases of Haverhill students infected with COVID-19 have been limited and there is no evidence of the virus being spread among students at school.
"We continue to implement safety measures such as social distancing and mask wearing, and we continue to believe it's safe for families to send their children to school and for teachers to be in school," Marotta said. "If the data changes, we'll be honest with parents and staff. If we feel there is too much contagion we will look at altering our schedules.
"We're not where I want to be ... I'd like to be lower, but we're not what was reported," she said of the number of cases in a one-week period.
Increased cases of COVID-19 across Haverhill recently placed the city in the state's red, high-risk zone for the virus. Several weeks earlier, Haverhill was in the yellow, moderate-risk zone. Before that, the city was in the green, low-risk zone.
On Friday of last week, the district posted a video of Haverhill school physician Dr. John Maddox explaining the impact of COVID-19 on Haverhill schools. The video can be seen by searching YouTube for "Haverhill Public Schools Update w Dr. Maddox (October 9, 2020)."
In another COVID-19 related issue, the School Committee has authorized the superintendent to work with the teachers union on an agreement related to working conditions during the pandemic.
School Committeeman Rich Rosa, a member of the team negotiating with teachers, said the superintendent needs to iron out a few issues before the agreement can go to the teachers union for a vote.
Anthony Parolisi, head of the Haverhill Education Association teachers union, said the School Committee agreed to details involving teaching under the hybrid model — a mix of classroom learning and learning remotely online from home that is used by most Haverhill students. That is a significant part of the agreement, he said.
"We hope to have this resolved early next week and give our members at last a few days or a week to consider it before a vote to ratify or reject," he said.