Barnstable School Committee Approves Adjusted Reopening Calendar

Christel Deskins

HYANNIS, MA – Despite numerous concerns from teachers who believe it is not yet safe for Barnstable students and staff to return to the classroom for in-person instruction, the school committee on Wednesday approved an adjusted school calendar that will allow the district to move ahead with a hybrid learning […]

HYANNIS, MA – Despite numerous concerns from teachers who believe it is not yet safe for Barnstable students and staff to return to the classroom for in-person instruction, the school committee on Wednesday approved an adjusted school calendar that will allow the district to move ahead with a hybrid learning model.

Under the plan, all students will begin classes on fully remote basis on Sept. 16. Classes will then shift to the hybrid model in which students will begin to return to the classroom in various cohorts for four hours a day beginning Sept. 28th. Full-day, in-person learning starts on Oct. 13. with parents having the option of keeping their students learning from home.

The district’s plan must be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by Aug. 10.

The plan, which is built on a schedule of 170 school days, remains fluid and a work in progress, superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown told the school committee during a meeting that included more than 90 minutes of public comments. The committee approved the adjusted schedule in a 4-1 vote with committee member Stephanie Ellis casting the dissenting vote.

Most teachers who voiced their opinion during the public comment portion of the meeting acknowledged that the committee found itself in a difficult, if not impossible spot, in considering a plan that school officials admitted will not satisfy everyone. Many who expressed concern – both over video teleconferencing and through emails – said that they have underlying health conditions that they worry will be compromised if they are asked to return to in-person teaching.

Some teachers said they have already contacted the district’s human resources department about options if they were forced to return to the classroom for in-person instruction.

Yet, in a common theme that carried was repeated by many who addressed the school committee, teachers said that as much as they love their jobs and their students, the thought of returning to in-person instruction as the uncertainties of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic does not make sense.

“School still isn’t safe,” history teacher Jeremy Shay told committee members, adding he believes instruction should continue on a fully remote basis.

Other teachers expressed concerns for the safety of themselves and the students and sought to keep classes at a fully remote basis at least for the first term of the school year or until there were more answers to questions surrounding the direction the pandemic is headed. Some insisted that if parents have the option to have their students learn at home, teachers, too, should have the option to teach remotely.

In discussing the reopening plan with committee members, Mayo-Brown said that district administrators will continue to allow science and data to drive their thinking. She said that the plan is contingent on guidance from state health and education officials and that school officials needs to be ready to pivot if need be.

“This is not set in stone,” she said.

In an online update to district families on Wednesday morning, Mayo-Brown said that district has safety protocols in place including the requirement of face-coverings and plans for safe transitions between classes and for student pick-up and drop-off. Students will be spaced six feet apart and each classroom will include a 7-foot teacher zone, which allows teachers to maintain a safe distance from students although they are not required to remain in the 7-foot space.

Once students begin to return to the classroom in late September, cohorts will attend school in-person on various days. Under the plan, Cohort A will attend classes on Mondays and Tuesdays with three days of remote learning, Cohort B will attend classes on Tuesdays and Fridays with remote learning the remaining three days, Cohort C will attend classes every day but Wednesday and Cohort D will learn remotely for the entire school week. Wednesday’s will be reserved for professional development for teachers and for teachers to have small-group check-ins with students, Mayo-Brown said.

Before voting no on the adjusted school calendar, Ellis said that she appreciated the fact that the plan allows for flexibility and options, adding that educating students in the middle of a global pandemic required flexibility.

Cohorts will be announced by Aug. 23, according to the plan. Mayo-Brown said that with 45-50 percent of parents responding to a district survey, 20 percent of families are opting to have their students learn remotely on a full-time basis.

This article originally appeared on the Barnstable-Hyannis Patch

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