As the 2020-2021 school year approaches, faculty and staff are scrambling to solidify a plan based on guidance provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
“It is an overwhelming amount of information to digest and implement in a very short period of time,” said School Superintendent Lisa Howard.
A Reopening of Schools Task Force has been engaged in applying guidance provided by the DESE and has been in the midst of developing structures, systems, and practices that both will ensure the safety of students and maximize their learning and social-emotional development. The many moving parts involved, are changing daily and will need to be adjusted based on the guidelines that get passed down.
In the meantime, the task force has taken proactive measures and engaged in the following:
• Identification and development of CORE Reopening of Schools Task Force Team and Subcommittees.
• Ordering and stockpiling cleaning supplies, building signage and personal protective equipment.
• Applied for/acquire any additional state and federal funding that is available.
• Identification of isolation spaces in each building if a staff member or student becomes ill during the school day (separate from the current nurse’s office).
• School building and classroom evaluation and mapping of space and furnishings to determine how many students and staff, given the distancing requirements, can occupy the space.
• Reviewing all DESE and CDC communication and guidance.
“DESE has placed a strong emphasis on getting as many students back in school buildings as safely possible,” said Howard. “In order to accomplish this, we are charged with creating and submitting three plans to meet the needs of our students as we get closer to the September opening of our schools.”
The first, and most preferred plan is for all students to return to a full-time, in-person classroom setting, while adhering to safety measures. While the task force is in the process of evaluating the facilities for this preferred return, it will be greatly impacted on the increase and/or decrease of COVID cases during the remainder of the summer.
The second plan that needs to be submitted is a hybrid model which would require students to alternate in-person learning with remote learning. In the event that there is an increase in COVID cases or if the majority of students are not able to fit inside classrooms while adhering to the required social distancing guidelines, the hybrid plan would be implemented.
If schools are to remain closed and if there is an increase in COVID cases, a third, all-remote learning model would be put in place.
Howard said that if the school has to adopt an all remote model, it would need to be more robust than the remote learning model that was utilized in the spring.
“We are currently working on a plan that would provide students with a model that would allow them to access all grade-level content standards and practices, and teachers would assess and grade students on their progress.”
As the district faces the unknown and awaits guidance from DESE, faculty and staff members are remaining flexible. The following key points will be taken into consideration during the planning process:
Students at the elementary and middle levels will remain in the same classrooms for most of the day. They will have opportunities for mask breaks, recess, and outdoor learning space when weather permits.
We will do our best to cluster students and reduce travel between classes at the Middle School and High School. We will provide opportunities for mask breaks and outdoor learning space when weather permits.
All students in grades two through twelve will be required to wear masks unless there are extenuating circumstances. Mask wearing is recommended for kindergarten and first graders. We are looking at multiple options for additional personal protective wear for our staff and students (clear masks, shields, sanitizing stations, waste stations, etc.).
Students will be eating in their classrooms and we are exploring options with our school food service such as grab-and-go lunches available for those students participating in the school lunch program.
We are developing training and protocols for faculty, staff, students, and families on school safety measures, including social distancing, proper mask wearing, and hand washing.
Band, chorus, physical education and theater teachers will need to modify their instruction significantly in order to follow safety guidelines. We are in the process of exploring multiple options for this redesigned instruction.
Students on Individual Educational Programs (IEP) will continue to receive Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) whenever appropriate, safe and possible. Additional safety precautions will need to be taken for some 1:1 in person services and we are working on the design of such to ensure compliance.
“There is a tremendous amount of additional work that needs to be accomplished to safely return our students and staff to school and we are committed to the process of getting this job done and there is no doubt that attending school in September will feel very different for students and staff, however we will be making every effort to make your child’s experience in school as positive and familiar as possible.”
Updates will continue to be provided on the webpage, under Reopening of Schools: www.winthrop.k12.ma.us