Schools wrestle with state guidance, budget for fall opening

Jun 26, 2020

After the state’s announcement that its goal for the fall is to bring as many students back into school buildings as possible, Wareham school officials are working to figure out how to make that happen safely. 

Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood said that she and other school employees have been working on solutions for the fall since the end of April. Now that there are specific state recommendations to work with, she is planning to put together a committee including faculty, staff, parents, school committee members, and maybe even some high school students to figure out how those plans will work for Wareham.

Complicating matters is an already over-stretched budget for the district. Shaver-Hood said that the town has already been very generous in allocating money for the schools, but its budget is limited. Additional funding will most likely need to come from the state. 

The state has announced some new funding -- $225 per student, which would bring in roughly $400,000, but that likely won’t be enough. 

“If they’re truly serious about getting our students back face-to-face, we’ll need additional funding from the state,” Shaver-Hood said. 

State guidelines will require all students in second grade or older and all adults to wear face masks all day. Wareham’s schools aren’t air-conditioned, which will make mask-wearing a burden for students, Shaver-Hood said. Schools will have to ensure that they have plenty of easily available drinking water and the ability to give students adequate breaks. 

Desks will need to be at least three feet apart and all facing forward. Shaver-Hood said that the school buildings are simply not big enough to accommodate that much distance between students. The district is looking into alternate sites, which would require more staffing. 

Additionally, Shaver-Hood said, some students currently work at shared tables. Because the tables are not six feet long, only one student could sit at each table, which is not workable. Therefore, new furniture will need to be purchased -- another expense. 

Students are supposed to eat their lunch in the classroom, adding another logistical challenge to the school day. Breakfasts will also be served in the classroom. 

The state has not yet released any guidance on school buses, and are expected to do so in mid-July. 

Shaver-Hood said that she is grateful for the principals, who she described as experts, and are working through the guidance for each building. 

Soon, the district will send out a questionnaire to all parents to determine what their concerns and opinions on how school should look in the fall. Fully distanced learning, fully in-person learning, or a mix of in-person and online learning are possible.

“We know that people are going to have questions,” Shaver-Hood said. The district will likely be establishing a section on its website where plans will be shared and parents can ask questions. Shaver-Hood said that she wants the district to be as transparent as possible.