Group tasked with planning return to full-time learning to meet in January

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A working group to develop plans for the full-time reopening of the Hopkinton Public Schools is scheduled to begin meeting in January, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh told the Hopkinton School Committee Thursday.

“The goal is to have full-time, in-person reopening of the Hopkinton public schools,’’ Cavanaugh said. “Everyone agrees that full-time, in-person education is the best kind of education we can offer our kids.’’

With vaccines on the horizon, “It’s time to start planning,’’ she said.

The district’s five building principals “know how to open a building’’ and bring many years of experience to that task, she said. The outstanding questions are when it will be safe to reopen and how much work will be required with school departments to make that happen.

Group members are scheduled to include the school department head nurse, director of finance and operations, director of facilities, director of technology, student information systems manager, building principals, a School Committee member, two parents,; a public health official, union representation and two teachers.

Invitations will be sent out to parents interested in sitting on the group. How parents will be chosen is not yet clear, Cavanaugh said, but they could be selected “out of a hat.’’

Students in the remote learning option will remain there for the school year, Cavanaugh said. Students currently in the hybrid model who might want to switch to remote rather than attempt a full-time return pose a tricky proposition.

“We will make every effort’’ to accommodate them, she said. But because of numbers and logistics, some grades might be “precluded’’ from making that switch, she said.

The group will “follow the trajectory of the virus,’’  Cavanaugh said. The vaccine timeline will also be incorporated in the plan.

The School Committee and the general public will be kept informed of the group’s progress.

“This is a great step forward,’’ committee chair Amanda Fargiano said. “People are going to be happy to see this. It’s so nice to see hope and the light at the end of the tunnel.’’

Educators are scheduled to be vaccinated fairly soon. “That’s really, really encouraging’’ news, Cavanaugh said.

In other issues, the committee supported future surveys and public forums to explore possible changes in start times for the schools. These changes could start in the fall of 2021.

A potential new schedule could be 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for secondary schools and 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for elementary schools.

A later start time could provide more morning sleep for secondary students, Cavanaugh said. National surveys have shown that students who are well-rested perform better in school.

This proposed schedule also would keep all students boarding buses in daylight, align Hopkinton with other athletic districts when scheduling athletic contests and eliminate one bus run, which potentially could save money.

In seeking public opinion on the possible change, “I certainly would want to hear from teachers,’’ and their views on the impact on their personal family schedules and on their teaching, Cavanaugh said.

In another issue, Cavanaugh suggested requesting $500,000 from the Legacy Farms host community agreement in case enrollments exceed the current Fiscal Year 2022 budget projections.

The request would cover an unanticipated 100 students, which she said would require the addition of seven teachers at a cost of $70,000 each. Enrollment has been challenging to determine this year because of the pandemic and what could happen to student numbers when school returns to normal.

The budget request currently accounts for 74 new students. This additional money may not be needed but is requested to be placed on a tentative Town Meeting warrant as a placeholder.

The school district has presented a tentative budget of $54,307,442, an increase of a little over 6 percent from the current budget.

No formal action was taken on the host community agreement Thursday. Further discussion of the request and of the budget in general is scheduled for the Jan. 4 meeting.

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