School Committee approves older students’ return to full-time in-person learning
Wareham Public Schools will bring its Middle School and High School students back for in-person instruction five days a week on Monday, April 26. A unanimous School Committee vote on April 7 confirmed that all of Wareham’s oldest learners will be back in the classroom on a full-time basis in less than three weeks.
Jeffrey Riley, the state’s commissioner of education, has not yet announced a deadline for when remote instruction would no longer count toward required student learning time hours for high school students. But in March, he announced that remote instruction would no longer count for middle school students after April 28, prompting the district to bring back its students later before that deadline or risk forcing students to attend school into the summer to meet learning time hour requirements.
Due to transportation limitations, the district will bring its high school students back at the same time as its middle school students.
Wareham’s elementary students returned to in-person classes five days a week on April 5.
Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood told the School Committee that a vote was required to bring back high school students because the state hadn’t mandated their return yet.
“The reason why we’re asking for vote is the Department of [Education] has not set a date for the high school to return, however for us to run transportation and to continue to operate, we really do need our high school students back,” Shaver-Hood said. “We feel that with our safety measures [...] that it will be successful, and we look forward to welcoming our high school back.”
Returning to in-person classes five days a week brings several challenges, including combining the students who have been broken into two groups called cohorts since hybrid learning began in October.
Under the current plan, which extended in-person school days on March 8, Wareham Middle School and High School students remain broken into two cohorts. Each cohort attends in-person classes each week for two full days that are only slightly shorter than standard pre-covid school days.
One cohort attends classes Monday and Tuesday, and the other attends classes Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is a remote day for all students.
During off-days — meaning the days a student’s cohort isn’t learning in-person — the student is responsible for completing worksheets, readings and online activities on their own.
The upcoming switch to full-time in-person instruction for all students means cohorts must be combined, which drastically increases the number of students at school on any given day.
To accommodate the increase, classroom seating will be reduced from 6 feet apart to 3 feet apart. The state has only required 3 feet of social distancing between desks, but Wareham schools maintained 6 feet of distance while it was able.
Teachers’ stations will remain 6 feet away from students.
Shaver-Hood said one of the district’s concerns is that maintaining 3 feet of distance within classrooms might not be possible, meaning administrators will have to look for alternative spaces to educate students.
Not all covid-19 safety precautions will change. People in school buildings will be still required to wear masks.
Lunches will remain the length they are under the current plan, meaning Middle School and High School students have 25 minutes. Seats in the lunchroom — where students’ masks are off so they can eat — will continue to be 6 feet apart.
The School Committee members present unanimously approved older students’ return on April 26.
“[Dr. Shaver-Hood] explained why we’re voting on this [...], but I’d like to think that we’d be doing this anyway,” said Committee Chair Joyce Bacchiocchi. “That this is really the best thing. I know that this is what [the district] would be doing anyway.”