In-person school day extension to begin March 8
Starting March 8, students who attend Wareham Public Schools through the in-person hybrid model will spend full days in the classroom that are only slightly shorter than the pre-covid norm.
Under the new plan, elementary school students will spend an additional two hours and 40 minutes at school each day, while Wareham Middle School and High School students will spend an additional two and a half hours in the classroom.
Cohorts will remain the same and will not be combined as part of this extension of the school day. New transportation times will be released as soon as possible, but students’ bus numbers will not change.
The school day extension was unanimously approved by the School Committee on Feb. 25, after Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood presented the plan publicly for the first time during the meeting.
Although parents were able to participate via public comment at the start of the meeting, they were unable to see the March 8 extension plan until after the opportunity to comment had passed.
Shaver-Hood emphasized that cleaning and mask protocols will remain the same, as will the requirement for 6 feet of social distancing. She also noted that Wednesday will still be a fully remote learning day under the new plan.
Several groups, including local health officials, the district’s principals and parents and guardians were asked to provide input about the plans to extend the school days, Shaver-Hood said. Parents and guardians were asked to fill out a survey about their preferences.
“I’ve checked with the Board of Health to ask if they have concerns with us extending the time, and they said no, they did not, as long as we maintain the social distancing and follow the protocols that we have in place,” she said.
All of Wareham’s principals spoke favorably of the plan, although they each acknowledged that the change would present various challenges for their schools.
Shaver-Hood said staff were also asked to share their thoughts on the plan. At the beginning of the meeting, a number of educators shared their concerns.
One of the primary concerns raised about the new plan was that students who are not part of the cohort attending classes in person on a particular day will lose valuable instruction time with teachers. Instead, those students will be responsible for completing worksheets, readings and online activities on their own.
Deanna Semple, president of the Wareham Education Association argued that under the new plan, substantial learning time will be lost.
“Currently, when Monday/Tuesday cohort students leave for the day, hybrid teachers meet virtually with the Thursday/Friday cohort as well as their virtual-only students,” Semple explained. “This valuable time will be lost to the off-day students, meaning teachers will literally have no direct contact with students for four days at a time.”
Semple said teacher office hours will no longer be possible under the new plan. She also expressed concerns that as in-person instruction time is increased, it will be harder and harder to maintain equitable instruction quality for hybrid and fully-remote students.
Brian Fitzgerald, a fifth grade humanities teacher at Wareham Middle School, reflected on the first time he spoke about reopening of schools at an August School Committee meeting.
He said he compared Massachusetts’ covid-19 statistics from the beginning of August to current data.
“The rate of hospitalization is 230 percent higher. There are 230 percent more people in hospitals because of covid than there were when we made this [original hybrid] plan,” Fitzgerald said. “The crisis isn’t over.”
Fitzgerald said that he wants to teach in-person more, but it’s not that simple.
“We’re so close,” he said. “I can imagine the day when I’m going to be able to hug my parents again. We are close. I have colleagues in other states who are getting vaccinated.”
Fitzgerald noted that schools first went remote because of covid 350 days earlier, and many sacrifices were made in that time.
“It would be horrible if so many people gave and sacrificed so much, just to decide at the end we can’t hang any longer,” he concluded. “It’s what you do at the end when the pressure’s at its worst — when you’re tired and you want to give up and just say, ‘Oh, let’s just stop trying to do the hard thing.’ And that’s where we are now.”
The extension of the school day also means students will have to eat lunch at school, which Shaver-Hood acknowledged was a big shift for the district.
“The cafeteria will be social distanced,” she said. “We’ve ordered some industrial-size air purifiers that will be placed in the cafeteria.”
Lunch times at the elementary schools will be reduced to 20 minutes. The Middle School and High School lunch periods will be 25 minutes.
It is unclear what additional changes to the district’s school day could be coming in the future, but Shaver-Hood noted that the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education commissioner set a target for reopening schools to more in-person learning: April 5.
“The commissioner did make the statement that after [April 5], if we were not meeting the minutes that were set as required they could have expectation that we are attending school in the summer to meet those minutes,” Shaver-Hood said.