Parents Given Option Of Continuing Remote Learning
HARWICH – While many school districts are preparing plans for three possibilities – a full return to school, a partial or hybrid return, and the continuation of remote learning – the 47-page draft Monomoy plan only includes a hybrid learning plan and plans to shift back to remote learning if necessary. A full reopening, said Superintendent of Schools Scott Carpenter, just didn’t feel realistic at this point.
“I’m not going to put out a plan that doesn’t keep everybody safe,” he said.
The plan has students heading back to school on Sept. 14 instead of the previous first day of Aug. 31, in accordance with state guidelines. Students in grades K through 7 will be returning in full capacity, while students in grades 8 to 12 will adopt a hybrid learning system that has them alternating between in-person classes and remote learning.
Laura Weatherup, head of the Monomoy Regional Education Association, said that the MREA has agreed to the plan in its draft form, but that there are some issues that are still being worked out, such as updating HVAC systems in each building and working with the boards of health and school nurses to ensure that the health and safety of students and educators is top priority.
Weatherup said that educators are concerned about reopening.
“There are a lot of us that want to get back to see our students, but we’re all very scared,” she said. “With the news articles out about children coming down with [COVID-19] at summer camps, of schools in Indiana closing almost immediately after reopening, we don’t know if it’s safe to go back or not.”
A forum on the plan for parents was slated for Wednesday, after which an online form opened for parents to select their preference for either at-home or in-school attendance. Carpenter planned to present the plan to the school committee for its approval Thursday.
School districts in the state were required to file reopening plans with the department of elementary and secondary education by July 31. At Cape Cod Regional Technical High School, where educators and students have been eagerly anticipating the opening of the new school building, class orientations will begin Sept. 15, with academic and technical programs operating in a hybrid fashion with students alternating between in person and remote learning.
The Nauset Regional School District will release its reopening plan following an Aug. 6 meeting of the district's school committee meetings, at which it will be presented. Messages left for the superintendent were not returned at press time.
Carpenter said Monomoy's hybrid plan will help address the district’s decision to not only require students in all grades to wear masks when at school, but also to adhere to the six-foot social distancing that will be mandated in all classrooms. At the elementary level where some class sizes make this logistically challenging, if not impossible, classrooms are being swapped to allow classes with more students to use larger classrooms.
The late start will allow educators time to learn the new systems, get familiar with their classrooms, and work out as many of the bugs that could pose problems with teaching both in-person students and those working remotely.
A key factor in having elementary and middle-school students attend school daily is that roughly 45 percent of district families said that they are unable to work unless school is in session.
“If you think about how many families have been impacted by COVID and the closures related to COVID, there are families who are just financially stressed,” Carpenter said. “We have a role to support them beyond just educating their kids.”
In accordance with state guidelines, parents will have the option of keeping their kids at home until they feel it’s safe to return to school, though Carpenter emphasized that such a decision cannot be made lightly since it will impact staffing and instruction.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is busing. The state has mandated that only one student can occupy a bus seat to and from school, which means 23 students total on the larger of Monomoy’s buses. Because of this, Carpenter has made the difficult decision to ask parents not to have their children ride buses when possible.
Along with the mask-wearing requirement, school lunches will be served in classrooms, with cafeterias closed to everyone except food service personnel, and students will be encouraged to regularly wash their hands and/or use hand sanitizer, as well as clean their desks with student-safe products. Classrooms will contain a minimal amount of furniture and décor so that cleaning is easier, and school hallways will be one way.
Taking a bit of a hit are physical education and music, both of which have to be dramatically altered in order to take place. With regard to music, there can be no choirs as singing is prohibited and no instruments played that require blowing air into. In PE, only activities that allow socially distancing will be allowed. While the state has allowed such classes to occur outside, Carpenter said that’s not feasible for Monomoy programs.
School day schedules have also been altered. At the elementary level, the in-person schedule has students arriving at 7:35 a.m., attending morning meeting at 8:15, then entering into instruction from 8:30 a.m. until 1:50 p.m. when dismissal begins. At-home learners will join morning meeting, then synchronous instruction will take place along with in-person instruction, until roughly 1:30 p.m.
At the middle school, students attending in person will arrive between 8:55 and 9 a.m., with instruction beginning at 9:15 a.m., with a lunch window planned from 11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Remote learners will check in from 8:45 to 9 a.m., join their peers remotely for instruction until 1:45 p.m., with the afternoon slated for independent work time.
At the high school, the opening hours are for teacher prep, with instruction beginning at 10:35 a.m. on a rotating schedule to accommodate for the in-person and remote learning alternation. Synchronous instruction will happen for those on the remote learning days, with the school day ending at 3:15. Last names will determine which days a student is learning remotely, with the list broken into three categories, all based on sharks: Tiger for students A-F, Thresher for G-N, and Mako for O-Z. A sample schedule might be Tigers on remote learning on Monday, Thresher on Tuesday, and Mako on Wednesday before the cycle repeats.
Students on distance learning must follow strict guidelines that include dressing appropriately, as if attending school in person, not wandering about with the camera, and attendance is mandatory. Should students be consistently absent from distance learning, Carpenter said plans will be made for those students to attend school in person with no alternating.
To help narrow any learning gaps that happened during the spring shutdown, students in all grades will be monitored to be sure they’re as on target as possible.
Carpenter acknowledged that the plans are not ideal since neither fully replicates a traditional return with all students in classrooms and no restrictions.
“No matter what we do in terms of that online learning, it’s not going to replicate the magic that happens in classrooms,” he said, adding that teachers will have ample support to do their best.
Carpenter cautioned, in light of a change in case numbers, that people not taking COVID-19 protocols seriously, such as mask wearing and remaining socially distant, could negatively impact the reopening plan.
“We started our planning process before the [Chatham] cluster happened. Based on the data we have, I believe we can do this safely, but it takes everybody,” Carpenter said. “It’s going to take parents not giving a kid Tylenol and sending them to school when they have a fever. It’s everybody doing things to protect everybody’s health, including their own, and that starts with masks. At the end of the day it’s the decisions that we collectively make that determine whether schools open and stay open.”
The draft was sent to the state on July 31, with a finalized version to be submitted upon approval. The draft document can be viewed on the district website, monomoy.edu.