HPS considers day-on, day-from-home option for students

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A return to school with a schedule that combines one day of in-person education with one day of remote learning has the support of both school district administrators and the reentry advisory group as of now, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh told members of the Hopkinton School Committee at their July 23 meeting.

Although no official plan has been formalized, a schedule with a day in school followed by a day working remotely, “seems to be the favored model,” Cavanaugh said.

Alternating days has benefits over alternating weeks, she said. Time outside of the classroom requires “a lot of autonomy” and she said that students could “lose momentum” if they were away from the classroom for a full week.

Committees within the Reentry Advisory Group are looking at the pros and cons of three options as mandated by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE): a full return to school, a hybrid model that includes both remote and in-person learning, and a fully remote option.

The committees are looking at issues such as health and wellness, curriculum and transportation.

The plan recommended by the subcommittee will be presented at a special School Committee meeting at 7 p.m. July 30. The presentation will be followed by a public forum on the topic of reopening.

A final report is due to DESE by Aug. 10.

A significant majority of parents plans to send their children back to school in the fall as long as a 6-foot distance is maintained between students, Cavanaugh said.

The numbers drop considerably, however, when the social distancing is reduced to 3 feet.

For the 6-foot distance, 63.9 percent of respondents to a district survey said they would return to school, 25.4 were not sure and 10.7 say they would not.

At 3 feet, 38.9 percent of parents would send their students back to school, 37 would not and 24.2 percent were not sure.

Nearly half of parents surveyed who plan to send their children to school preferred a full-time return, at 46.2 percent. Alternating days between in-school and remote learning — the model the reentry group prefers at this stage — was the choice of 24 percent, with 17 percent selecting alternating weeks between in-school and remote learning and 12 percent choosing partial days in school.

The survey was sent out as part of soliciting information in advance of developing a plan for the reentry to school this fall.

Significant discussion at the July 23 meeting involved the ideal distance between students.

Committee member Joe Markey suggested that elementary school students would be OK at 3 feet of separation. He noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics has advised that 3 feet of separation is acceptable for younger children.

Markey said that parents and community resident input is welcome, but “I’d like us to rely on health policies experts on that.”

Cavanaugh noted that members of the Hopkinton Teachers Association have concerns — “and rightly so” — about the health of their members, particularly those who are older or have underlying health conditions. The association prefers the 6 feet distance, she said.
When all the factors are considered, she said, “we decided to err on the side of caution” and go with the 6-foot model.

Cavanaugh also noted that DESE only recently spoke of a 3-foot separation as an acceptable option. If the 3-feet mark deserved serious consideration, “their marketing should have been better,” she said.

Committee chair Amanda Fargiano suggested hosting a walk-through for adults to receive a first-hand view at what the school day will look like before finalizing a reopening recommendation.

“I’d like to have us walk the walk before we come up with the plan,” she said, adding, “I’d like to… put ourselves through the paces.”

Markey agreed. “We need that perspective” of what youngsters will experience, he said. “I think a walk-through would be invaluable.”

He also urged school leadership to “set the tone” by stressing “emotional, social and emotional needs” rather than just focusing on “logistical and operational issues” such as masks and social distancing.

Committee member Nancy Cavanaugh suggested reaching out to day care centers and similar facilities that have been open to school-age children through the pandemic to see what their experiences have been. “That would help for data,” she said.

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