The Winthrop Schools are working on a plan that will return all students to school five days a week. Grades PK-5 are expected to return no later than April 5 per state guidance. The Winthrop School Committee plans to vote on Monday to finalize a return date for 6-12.
During the meeting, Superintendent and school principals dissected the obstacles that will come with getting all students back in the classroom. A statewide plan that is still in the works will dictate the required distance between students. Since January 4, the district has been operating on a hybrid model, with students maintaining a six-foot distance in the classroom. If the state adopts a three-foot distance, all students will be able to be back in the building, however; the district will be faced with new classroom arrangements that will require hefty expenses.
At the middle school and high school level, the current five-feet long, two-person classroom tables will need to be removed and replaced with individual desks to ensure a three-foot distance, which will be measured from one edge of a desk to another edge of a desk. To accommodate the 475 students in the middle school, more than 600 desks will need to be ordered. This number will include the desks that will be utilized in the cafeteria and the team room, during lunchtime. The cost of 100 desks, without chairs, is estimated to be $7,998.
The high school side would need to utilize other spaces of the building for lunch, as there are currently 80 desks separated by six feet in the cafeteria.
“If we have a full return to school, we’d have to accommodate 130 students per lunch,” said Principal Matt Crombie. “We should be able to use the outdoor patio and the PE room for additional space.”
The average high school classroom will need 28 desks, spaced at three-feet. This can be accommodated in most cases, however; larger classes would need to move to other areas.
Crombie said it will take a lot of shifting and moving classrooms around which will require the hiring of additional staff to monitor the extra spaces being used.
Superintendent Howard said that renting tents is a possibility, and while that comes with a $8,000 monthly price tag and permitting fees, it is what it is and we won’t consider it a barrier to education.
If the district utilized tents for outdoor learning and lunch space, the town would have to permit the use of spaces and mandatory steps would need to be taken.
“If cost was a barrier all the time, we would be nowhere,” said Howard, who confirmed that the district is entitled to FEMA and COVID grant money.
While the price of furniture is at the forefront of challenges the district must face to open a full in-person learning environment, there are also staffing shortages that will need to be addressed. The additional use of spaces and distancing mandates will require additional staff to monitor bathrooms, lunches, recess, and added classroom spaces. The bathroom capacity in most of the school buildings, will have a limit of one to three students, which will result in longer wait times and necessary management of traffic.
The committee voted to postpone a vote on middle and high school students pending additional guidance from the state, which is expected this week. On Monday, March 15, the committee will regroup to vote.