Schools to start remote before going hybrid
The Wareham School Committee voted unanimously at its August 6 meeting in favor of a phased reopening approach, starting remote on September 16 before going hybrid at an unspecified point in the school year. Students may choose to stay remote the entire year.
More than 50 people protested outside the Multi-Service Center in favor of an all-remote reopening. The protest was organized by the teachers’ union and supported by some bus drivers and members of the buildings and grounds staff.
Nicole Roberge, the secretary of the Wareham Educators Association teachers’ union, said that the union wants specific public health data benchmarks to be set and met before any in-person learning resumes.
Roberge also noted the many questions that would remain unanswered even after the School Committee made its vote for hybrid learning: How will the schools respond when a student or teacher contracts coronavirus? Will the whole class need to be quarantined? What about the other students on the sick student’s bus? Given that the schools already struggle to find enough qualified substitute teachers, how will schools find staff to fill in for those who are sick or quarantining?
Several teachers also made impassioned comments before the board, and emails from teachers, students, and parents were read into the record.
While some expressed support for an at least partial return to face-to-face learning, most expressed fear and anxiety over the risks students and teachers will be taking.
Middle school music teacher Caitlin Francese said that while she would usually be back-to-school shopping for supplies and decorations for her classroom, she is instead setting up her home office, medical power of attorney, and writing a will.
Brian Fitzgerald, a fifth grade teacher, said that the activities that he and his students love -- including reenacting a trial of those involved in the Boston massacre, small group work, and shared books in the classroom library -- will all be off-limits due to the coronavirus safety rules imposed by the state.
Functionally, Fitzgerald said, the time in the classroom will be distance learning with an added risk of death.
Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said that the move to hybrid, partially in-person learning will occur likely no sooner than October 5, but could be postponed. She said she is working with the Board of Health and the state to determine what public health data benchmarks should be met before schools can go back at least part-time, and added that the picture in Wareham is slightly more complicated because of the high number of summer residents. If there was a surge in cases, the schools could easily return to an all-remote model.
When the hybrid phase begins, most students will return to school for two four-hour days each week. Students with higher needs may return up to four days a week.
Buses will run at about ⅓ of their normal capacity, with one student on each bench seat and students alternating between sitting next to the aisle or next to the window.
Bus route variances, such as being picked up at home and dropped off at the Boys and Girls Club after school, will not be allowed.
Those who paid for bus service for the upcoming school year will be receiving a full refund, and the schools are working to send partial refunds to those who paid last year.
The time in-school will look very different from what students are used to. All students, except those with documented medical needs, will need to wear masks at all times and maintain at least three feet and preferably six feet of social distancing. Shaver-Hood said she knows students will need to take mask breaks about every 30 to 45 minutes.
Students will stay in cohort groups, and the travel plans throughout the schools will be regimented.
Personal protective equipment will be provided to all staff and students, and the district has been working on purchasing that equipment since April.
The district has purchased a number of electrostatic sprayers, which are devices to cover all the surfaces in a room in a fine disinfecting mist that drys within about twenty minutes. Those devices will be used to clean the school buildings as well as the school buses.
New cleaning procedures are in the works, and custodial staff will be receiving extra training.
Shaver-Hood said the district is also working with the nurses and special education teachers to make sure their unique PPE needs are met.
No visitors or volunteers will be allowed in school buildings.
Plexiglass has been installed in office spaces, and hand sanitizing stations and portable sinks are being set up throughout the school.
All the furniture is being removed from classrooms except for teacher and student desks and chairs.
Decals will be installed on the floors to instruct students on the correct traffic flow and to facilitate social distancing.
“We also know that the social-emotional aspect is critical, just critical,” Shaver-Hood said. “We know that relationship building needs to take place as soon as possible.”
Shaver-Hood said the district’s counselors and social workers are working on lesson plans and other ways to facilitate relationship building between students and teachers.
Additionally, Shaver-Hood said, doing hybrid learning as opposed to all-remote learning puts the district in a better position to receive federal funding.