AR School Committee opts for dual school opening plans

  • Athol Community Elementary School. Staff file photo

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 8/10/2020 3:21:54 PM
Modified: 8/10/2020 3:21:50 PM

ATHOL — Rumors that the Athol Royalston Regional School Committee has voted to go with the complete reopening of schools next month are, to quote Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. Superintendent Darcy Fernandes told the Athol Daily News Friday that the committee voted Wednesday 8-2 night to instead offer parents a choice.

“It was not the vote to go with the full in-person model,” said Fernandes. “Parents can choose for full reopening or full virtual. Parents can choose either one. So, they can either have their kids fully in school, or they can go fully virtual. It’s their choice.”

Fernandes said parents were polled recently as to whether they wanted to have their children schooled solely remotely.

“We had about a 50-50 split,” she said. “About 50 percent said ‘yes’ and about 50 percent said ‘no.’ So, we documented who said ‘yes’ and who said ‘no,’ and what we are going to do is we’re sending out letters. And what we’re going to say in the letter is, ‘This is what we understand your choice to be. If this is not correct, please contact your school and make the correction.’ So, families, if they chose one and they changed their mind, they’ll be able to.”

Fernandes said a strategy regarding the deployment of teachers is still being worked out.

“There are still two options on the table,” she explained. “One, that we’ll have a set of teachers that only teach virtually, and a set of teachers who only teach in person. That’s one option.

“The other option is, part of my day I’m teaching virtually — part of my day I’m teaching in the classroom.”

She said a third option might be to have a teacher who could do a live stream in the classroom.

“What we have to do,” she said, “is once people make their choice, we’ll see how many people made a decision on that next step — because we don’t know absolutely, yet, how many are going to choose virtual and how many are going to choose to be in school.

“Until we know that, we can’t tell you the exact process we’ll use. We have all of those models ready to go, but depending on who chooses what will be one factor.

“The other factor is looking at our teachers who might be more susceptible to COVID. If somebody’s more susceptible to COVID, can we put them only in a virtual setting.”

She said the most difficult aspect of any decision is to balance the needs of families with the needs of the staff.

“Our families had a 50-50 split — half wanting to be in, half wanting to be out. At the end of the day, I felt this model provided the most options to support people the way they wanted.”

One of those who voted against the dual strategy for reopening was committee Chair Lee Chauvette (the other was committee member Tammy Duquette).

“I opposed the plan that was submitted to the committee by the Superintendent because, from the start of planning for a return, I have supported more of a hybrid approach,” he told the Athol Daily News.

“The hybrid approach would allow for ‘cohorts’ of students to be in school on certain days and then ‘remotely’ for certain days. I know it would have been difficult for some parents to manage.

“However, I did support a submission by (committee member) Mitch Grosky that called for a ‘phased in’ approach. We are the only local district that is offering a full return to school along with a ‘remote’ choice for parents. Most are deploying either full remote or a hybrid.”

The district is employing the three-foot social distancing rule that has been approved by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, another decision that makes Chauvette uncomfortable.

“In my full-time career as a safety and compliance manager,” he said, “I have been charged with handling every aspect of managing COVID-19 since March. The six-foot rule is the standard and I believe it should have been the requirement chosen by the DESE.”

Chauvette said it’s his understanding the reopening plan will be reviewed about six weeks after the start of school.

“I share concerns of many parents and staff members about a full return to the classroom. This plan must be monitored constantly to ensure the safety of everyone in our school building. Parents do have the opportunity to opt for remote instruction if they so desire and that works for them,” Chauvette concluded.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com


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