Over 160 participants joined the virtual Silver Lake Regional School Committee meeting on Wednesday, July 29 to hear the presentation on the preliminary reopening plan that is to be submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Friday, July 31.
Superintendent Jill Proulx and Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch began by sharing the results of the Parent Intentions Survey for the regional schools. It should be noted that the reopening plans are voted by the separate school committees and therefore the plans for Halifax Elementary, Kingston Elementary, Plympton Elementary and the combined Middle School and High School could all be different. Asked whether they plan to send their students to school in the fall under the current conditions, 61 percent of respondents said yes, 7 percent said no, and 31 percent were undecided. Asked their preferred mode of transportation to and from school, the majority of respondents said they planned to drive or be driven.
The staff was also surveyed with the majority of responses coming from teachers. Sixty of the staff members surveyed said they planned to return in the fall while 38 answered they were undecided and another 6 said no, they would not. Of the three models offered, 45 percent said they preferred remote, 25 percent said they preferred full, in-person, and 28 percent said they would opt for a hybrid model.
Proulx presented the reentry proposal that is to be submitted to DESE Friday. DESE mandated that each district provide a plan for full, in-person learning, full remote learning, as well as a hybrid approach. Proulx said that regardless of the approach chosen, everyone will have the option to choose full remote learning. Both staff and students electing remote will need to sign a commitment for at least half the year as switching between models will not be allowed. Students electing to be fully remote would likely be in separate classes from those receiving some sort of in-person instruction.
Highlights from Proulx’s in-person model include using 6 ft of social distancing wherever possible and DESE’s recommended 3 ft wherever 6 ft is not possible. Safety precautions including signage, both floor decals and signs, would also be included. Proulx also told those assembled that with buses limited to a third of their usual capacity due to distancing mandates, parents wishing to utilize the bus are likely to have to submit a bus commitment each semester.
Proulx presented two potential models for hybrid learning. Each would consist of four cohorts of students. Cohorts A and B would attend school on alternating schedules. Cohort C would be those students electing for full remote learning, and Cohort D would consist of students that qualify as high needs and therefore are eligible for 4 full days of in-person learning a week.
Hybrid Model 1 would have Cohort A attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday with Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday being remote. Cohort B would be remote Monday through Wednesday and in-person on Thursday and Friday. All students would be remote on Wednesdays in both models. This day is intended to be used for disinfecting the buildings as well as professional development for teachers. Hybrid Model 2 would have Cohort A attend school Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday followed by a full week of remote learning. Cohort B would be on the opposite schedule each week. Proulx and Lynch said that early research seemed to indicate a preference for Hybrid Model 1 as it provides more consistency for families.
A focus would be placed on in-person learning of the core requirements in both hybrid models while art, music, and physical education would be held remotely. Also of note, Proulx said that the district will do its best to ensure that siblings are placed in the same cohort to limit scheduling confusion for families.
With a large number of attendees from the public, committee chair Paula Hatch opened the floor to questions regarding the reopening plan. There were some questions as to how the cohorts would be selected. While friendship groups will not be considered, Proulx said there was a possibility that the cohorts would be separated by neighborhood for transportation reasons. Some questions were also asked about chromebooks and participants were told that the goal is for all students to have their own chromebook. While questions were asked about the CTE program, Proulx and High School Principal Michaela Gill told the crowd that those guidelines had just been released from DESE that afternoon and that more information would be forthcoming. Some in the audience had questions about sports but Proulx told them they didn’t expect answers regarding fall sports until sometime in mid-September.
Finally, the committee was asked to vote on the preliminary, non-binding plan to be submitted to DESE. In addition to submitting the plan, DESE requested that districts also indicate which way they are leaning. Proulx said the plan, as written, indicated a leaning toward one of the hybrid models.
Committee member Gordon Andrews was the sole no vote from the committee saying he wouldn’t vote in favor of the plan unless the leaning was changed. Hatch also asked the committee to take a straw poll to indicate their preferred approach to reopening.
Hatch, Andrews, Leslie-Ann McGee, and Chris Eklund were for full in-person. Laura Tilton and Eric Crone were for a hybrid approach. Both Edward Desharnais and Mike Antoine voted to begin school remotely.
Antoine indicated a preference for starting remotely and slowly rolling into a hybrid approach as was voted by the Plympton School Committee earlier that week.
The committee plans to meet again next week to select and vote on a more comprehensive plan that must be submitted to DESE by August 10 and made public.