On a motion by Summer Schmaling, the Halifax School Committee voted unanimously to send elementary school students back to school five full days a week, beginning March 22, the first day of the school’s third term.
At their meeting Monday night, March 1, close to 200 parents, teachers, and more were logged in remotely to hear the plan that Principal Kayne Beaudry and his staff put together to bring students back.
Working from a survey for each student, Beaudry asked what parents wanted: full time back to school or hybrid (no change). The response was 2 to 1 overwhelmingly in favor of bringing students back full time. There were 88 who did not respond.
Beaudry presented the timeline for full return to school that he and his staff developed, beginning with mailing the survey to families from Feb. 19 to Feb. 26. The week of March 15 will see teacher assignments, transportation and communication to families. March 22 will return students to full time.
Beaudry told the board the response rate to his survey was 84%. “Incredible! Thank you to all who completed the survey.” Of those who returned the survey, 69% preferred full in-person return, while 31% chose the hybrid, or no change.
Currently there are 567 students at Halifax Elementary School. At this time, there are 290 students on the bus, and another 200 for drop-off and pickup. There are 10 buses, and the routes will need to be revised. Beaudry said they will be working with the bus companies as quickly as possible to implement the changes.
The pickup will likely be staggered to avoid congestion. Drop off seems to flow a little quicker so it will remain the same. The Holmes Library will continue to allow kindergarten students and siblings to use the library parking lot.
Schmaling, asked if Beaudry anticipated needing a police detail for the first few days. He said a police detail, would be helpful in the beginning to get things going, “but I’m confident the staff can get it done pretty quickly.”
As for lunches, both the cafeteria and the all-purpose spaces will be used to seat students. “We can easily accommodate 88 students at 6 feet distance in the cafeteria and the all purpose room,” he told the assembly. Schmaling asked if he had enough seating for lunch and the answer was yes. He said they might be looking for a number of desks to accommodate, but they have some tables that can also be used. Dr. Proulx commented that if the remaining surveys come in, we might have to find another 45 extra desks. There might be a minor cost to accommodate that.”
“One of the trickiest pieces we had to work with were specialists,” Beaudry continued. He told the board that returning to a full in person schooling that music will look a little different, and the instruments will look a little different, for a safe class.
A parent asked about snacks and mask breaks. Beaudry answered, “if the weather is nice, we will utilize that. There are tents that can be used. If we’re not able to go outdoors, we were talking about having mask breaks in the hallway or even larger areas in the building. “
“With 88 no responses, I have to reach out to those families to see where they stand,“ Beaudry said.
Another concern voiced by a parent is “What happens to the remote kids when the school goes back in full?” Beaudry said that it is their hope to disrupt those students as little as possible, understanding the relationships formed between the teacher and their students. Some disruption can’t be avoided.
Safe classroom setup will accommodate up to 24 students with desks, seat to seat, 3 feet apart. It will look much like a traditional classroom from the 80s, desks and chairs in a row, but that will allow for a staging area for the teacher to work and the maximum number of students safely in a room.
To answer concerns that a return to full five-day school schedule will increase COVID-19 transmission, Schmalling said that the school nurse had reported there was not one single case of the virus transmitted in the Halifax Elementary School.
Superintendent Proulx told the assembly ”It’s very important that everyone understands that he’s (Beaudry) going to do his best not to disrupt student placements for teachers but that needs to happen. I think everyone needs to understand that classrooms will be at three feet. I can’t control, to what extent, nor can Mr. Beaudry, what impact that will have on the consistency of our mode. Less distancing means more potential close contacts. I feel confident in the fact that Mr. Beaudry and Mr. DeSantis have worked very hard in two days to put together a presentation for you based upon the survey data that just closed, and the governor has encouraged the full in-person return by the first week of April.”
Superintendent Proulx noted that she expects that there has been some learning loss over the past year, but she has some funds are available to implement summer programming, with more information to follow.