Not only will the students at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in Harwich have a new building to check out on their first day of school, but they’ll also have a new way of doing pretty much everything, as will students at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham.
The new routines are part of the districts’ plans for the reopening of schools, which they must send to the state no later than Aug. 14. The original deadline for plan submission was Aug. 10, but given the amount of legwork needed by each individual district and school, the state allowed for a four-day extension.
Cape Tech Plan
At Cape Tech, Principal Billy Terranova said administrators explored a number of ideas in order to align better with the learning styles of the students, dubbing it “the best of the worst” since the ideal is having kids in the building full-time and COVID-19 numbers don’t allow that yet.
“We looked at a lot of different options for our student body because I do feel we have a different type of learner in our building compared to other schools,” Terranova said, acknowledging that the majority of Tech students appreciate the hands-on learning offered by a vocational-technical school.
The challenge for such schools is not only having students alternate between in-person and remote learning days, as is the case for each of the region’s three districts (Cape Tech, Monomoy, and Nauset), but also the looming possibility that should COVID-19 numbers trend further upward, the school will be forced to return to fully remote learning.
“It is extremely challenging because we want to ensure that students are getting their hands-on learning,” Terranova said. “As well as supports for certifications in the industries, which has requirements that include hours of hands-on learning, classroom learning, and state or national tests they have to pass in order to receive certain certifications.”
Under the Cape Tech plan, which was revealed during a well-attended Zoom meeting on Aug. 4, students will be required to wear masks, traffic flow in the new building will ensure social distancing and safety, and students must adhere to the six-foot social distancing requirement everywhere on campus.
The plan itself is fairly complex if one isn’t familiar with the traditional Cape Tech scheduling, which had students alternate based on grade level between academics and shop on a two-week rotating schedule. Now, students will kick off the year with orientations that begin on Sept. 15 with the senior class and end on Sept. 18 with freshmen.
Broken into phases, the first phase has 50 percent of the Cape Tech population in school while the rest are on remote learning. Similar to the two-week rotation, where students will be (academic class or shop) will depend upon what color week it is (maroon or gray) and what day in the rotation it is. For example, when students in grades 9 and 11 are in shops, students in grades 10 and 12 are in academic classes.
After Oct. 16, the hope is to move into Phase B, which will have 67 percent of students in the building, still alternating between in-person and remote learning, and still using cohorts and colors. Phase C, slated for Nov. 16, sees 75 percent of students in school, and Phase D, anticipated for December, aims for 100 percent of students back in school, with a two-tiered busing system to accommodate the state mandated one student per seat rule.
The busing system will have some students attending school from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while the remainder will attend from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. While some parents on the Zoom meeting expressed concern about how the new hours will impact after-school jobs, Terranova emphasized that education had to come first.
Other parent questions included supports for students with special needs, which are included in the plan, and what would happen if a student or staff member tested positive for or showed symptoms of the virus. Superintendent Robert Sanborn said there will be extensive protocols in place for such a possibility. Students will also be required to wash hands and use hand sanitizer regularly, along with wiping down desks and surfaces. The building itself will be thoroughly cleaned daily by the custodial staff.
As per state requirements, parents have the option to keep students at home on a fully remote schedule. Terranova said it will likely be possible to swap back to in-person learning, though, at a semester break. Anyone wishing to make such a change beforehand will need to address the situation with the school.
“We know we have a lot of different viewpoints in our community in regard to what is best for children,” Terranova said. “We wanted to let all our community members know that our goal is to get our kids back in school. Whether or not we reach that will be dependent upon national, state, county benchmarks.”
See the full Cape Tech plan at capetech.us.
At Nauset Regional High School, classrooms were measured, and the three-to-six-foot recommended distancing applied. Hallways were given the same treatment, and possible arrival and dismissal models were explored. Emergency drills were taken into consideration, along with a number of other concerns, which led administrators to determine that a full return simply isn’t safe at the moment.
Instead, the plan presented at the Aug. 6 school committee meeting featured a hybrid model similar to both Cape Tech’s and Monomoy’s when classes begin Sept. 16. Students in cohorts will alternate on a rotation between in-person classes and remote learning, with Wednesdays primarily remote so that custodians can clean and disinfect each building.
Remote learners, by choice or through rotation, will have a “front row” seat to their classes, and for whom all class time is synchronous — concurrent with in-school classes — meaning students will still have to set that alarm. Students with high needs will be on campus for four or five days each week.
“It’s the same experience,” said Dr. Chris Ellsasser, Nauset High Principal, of remote learning. “You’re just in a different space.”
As required by the state, parents must complete a commitment survey determining whether their student will be attending in person or remotely. Those numbers, Ellsasser explained, will help with faculty assignments, and he is asking parents for a 100 percent return.
Regarding physical safety, masks will be required for all in-school students and desks will be placed six feet apart. Mask breaks will be scheduled, and students will have a set of safety-based requirements to follow to help maintain distancing and contact.
At Nauset Middle School, students attending in person will be placed into cohorts, with each cohort remaining together the entire school day. Schedules will be created, with cohort sizes roughly 15 to 18 students, with the possibility that there might be paired cohorts in special circumstances. While students will have block scheduling, the cohort will remain in one classroom for the entirety of the day, with teachers traveling to each classroom instead of students moving about the building.
The exception is physical education, which will feature a curriculum of activities aimed at maintaining the six feet of social distance between students. Ideally, PE classes will be held outdoors whenever possible, similar to music, which will have students outside, spaced 10 feet apart. Masks must be worn at all times, except during scheduled mask breaks and lunch.
Academically, students will have a six-period per day schedule on a rotating A and B day timeline. There will be a special block for social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and community building at the beginning of each day. At the end, students wrap up with a chance to reflect on the day and use a little hand sanitizer before hopping on the bus or into the car with a parent.
For students choosing remote learning, there will be direct daily instruction with a set daily schedule, same as in person. If there are enough students, a remote cohort may be created. Whenever possible, an optional in-person outdoor activity might be assigned.
Students in the elementary grades will attend in person, save for those whose families have chosen remote learning.
Academically, students will be presented with grade-level content aimed at addressing any gaps that were incurred by the sudden closure of schools and the unexpected shift to distance learning last spring. Assessments are planned in math and English to help determine what supports are needed.
Along with mask and distancing requirements, an emphasis will be placed on outdoor learning whenever possible, with educators at each elementary school assessing the grounds for outside classroom areas. When inside, students will remain in their classrooms for the entirety of the school day. Rather than have students travel through the building for subjects such as art and music, those teachers will travel, preventing distancing issues in hallways. Students will use individual toolkits, art supplies and such rather than sharing classroom materials.
Also, at the elementary level, each student will be provided with an iPad to be used for certain lessons, which will also make a possible transition to remote learning less problematic. With regard to maintaining physical distance when navigating buildings, visual cues will be numerous, clearly marking traffic patterns.
Remote learners will be placed into student cohorts working at home. They will have the option to remote into the classroom, or they may work directly with a teacher and a cohort depending upon need. Curriculum materials will be clear and readily available, and the student will have his or her school iPad to use for remoting in and/or completing schoolwork.
To ensure that all families have proper access to classrooms and materials, school staff will make sure any connectivity issues are addressed. Daily attendance will be taken, and academic expectations are the same as attending school in person. If parents want to switch from remote to in-person, there could be a waiting period of up to four weeks.
The hope was for the plans to be approved not only by individual school committees in each town, including Orleans, but also the regional committee. Some members, however, expressed concerns, echoing the sentiments of parents in the chat function of Zoom since parents were not allowed to ask questions at the Aug. 6 session.
Martha Gordon, vice chair of the Wellfleet Committee, asked Superintendent Tom Conrad about the 20 to 30 educators that said in a reopening survey that they didn’t feel comfortable coming back. Conrad said it was a top concern and would be addressed.
Gordon also questioned the decision to reopen when so many town offices remain closed.
“My biggest [concern] and the one I’m hearing from in the community, is this: The school department is the only department in town that is going forward with business as usual. Our other depts are not taking the same risk we’re asking staff and students to take. What I’m wondering is why?”
Conrad said the plans were created using information “from a variety of medical personnel” as well as guidance from Governor Charlie Baker, and Jeff Riley, the state’s commissioner of education.
“They are of the opinion that if we are able to follow the guidelines we have discussed that our staff and our students will be safe,” said Conrad.
As of deadline, the Nauset plan had not yet been posted online.