HARWICH – As colleges and universities across the country, including the University of Massachusetts, announce continued remote learning for the fall semester, parents in the Monomoy Regional School District are eagerly awaiting plans for the reopening of schools this fall, which Superintendent Dr. Scott Carpenter said at this point still remain unclear.
“The priority from the state is getting people back into classrooms safely,” Carpenter said, adding that the state has basically issued three possible scenarios for opening, but nothing concrete as officials continue to monitor COVID numbers for a possible spike during the phases of reopening. It probably won't be until mid August that specifics are finalized, he said.
According to a letter by Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley, “Our goal for the fall is to safely bring back as many students as possible to in-person school settings, to maximize learning and address our students’ holistic needs.”
According to the document, there are a number of health and safety practices that must be in place in order for schools to open safely, including mandatory mask wearing for students in grade 2 and above, with students in the lower grades encouraged but not required to wear masks. Adults are required to wear masks as well, with mask breaks to take place when students can safely remain six feet apart, such as on the playground or in a room with the windows open. Families are responsible for providing masks for their children and masks must be worn by all ages at all times while on buses.
Districts and schools are encouraged to keep a distance of six feet between individuals whenever possible, with a minimum of three feet to be maintained regardless, which will likely require reconfiguration of classroom layouts.
School nurses and staff assisting students with special needs, for whom distancing is not always possible, must adhere to additional safety precautions, including wearing eye protection (face shields or goggles, as well as a mask, disposable gloves, and a washable outer layer of clothing.
While temperature checks will not be required, students will have to wash or sanitize their hands upon arriving at school, before eating, before putting on or removing masks, and prior to dismissal. In order to further minimize transmission of COVID-19, schools must create an isolated space separate from the nurse’s office for students displaying symptoms of the virus.
The state is outlining three possible reopening plans. The first is a full reopening, with the aforementioned protocols in place. In the second, a hybrid learning system would have students alternate between in-person and remote learning, either through alternating days or weeks. The third scenario is unchanged from what took place this spring, with full remote learning, though with plans for all-day instruction versus short windows as was the case from March to June.
In a survey sent out to Monomoy families, roughly 45 percent expressed a need to have children in school for the day in order to allow them to work, something that two of the scenarios don’t allow.
“As a district, we have a role in families being able to work,” Carpenter said. “In a hybrid scenario, we’re going to have to be very creative in a situation where we can still have people in a building, but not everyone. How can we get as many of our younger students in our schools as possible?”
Carpenter said that now is typically the time the district plans its high school and middle school schedules, complicated this year by having to include three distinct possibilities for reopening.
“We have to develop high school schedules that need to shift on a dime from one scenario to another,” Carpenter said. “I’ve been talking with (incoming Monomoy High principal) Jen Police to be sure we’re developing a schedule that can be consistent with these scenarios, have what students need, and anticipate what comes next. Meanwhile, I’ve got our tech director making sure we’ve got enough bandwidth to be sure we can be broadcasting out.”
Then there are the distance and space requirements.
“We can maintain that three feet. We can probably maintain the six-foot distance in most spaces,” Carpenter said. “We’re in a lot better shape than a lot of school districts out there in getting kids back int the classrooms, but what do we do in terms of spacing at desks?”
Carpenter said that many of the high school desks aren’t individual but are two-person tables that administrators are trying to figure out how to reconfigure. Carpenter said the district is also looking at utilizing outdoor learning spaces during good weather.
The problem is not having a solid plan to work with.
“The craziness hasn’t gone away. It’s actually gotten worse,” he said.
What is known is that the state does not want shortened education days should remote learning need to continue.
“Even if we have to go all remote, there will be direct instruction happening,” Carpenter said. “We have to put parameters in place so we’re not widening the gaps created by the sudden virtual learning.”
In order to address those gaps, particularly with special needs students and English language learners, or anyone that fell behind in the remote learning environment, summer classes are in the works. What the fall will look like, however, is still anyone’s guess.
“The state’s requiring us to come with three scenarios for each school. I suspect as we get closer to middle August, the state will let us know which we’ll be opening under,” Carpenter said. “We’re still planning on starting Aug. 31. We need to do everything we can to keep people as healthy as possible — our students, our staff, our families, our communities. Everyone has a role in that.”