The Hopkinton Reentry Group met for the first time Tuesday to discuss how to reopen schools this fall.
Different ideas were discussed, but one factor is certain: Schools will look very different than the traditional model.
“We begin with the premise that the coronavirus has not changed,” said superintendent Carol Cavanaugh. “What has changed and what will continue to change are human behavior. It is important to note, then, that in keeping with the need to alter our behavior in response to the virus, the way we do school in September will be markedly different from the ways we have done school in the past.”
The group includes administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, staff, medical and health professionals, elected officials, parents and students, who are advising the plan for reentry to the Hopkinton Public Schools in September.
The 36-member group, which has been divided into various subcommittees, will ultimately make recommendations to the superintendent and central office administrators.
Members will examine many issues, including delivery of curriculum and instruction, transportation and food service, different scheduling scenarios, and health and safety protocols, including social distancing parameters.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has asked school districts to develop plans for three specific scenarios: a return to school on a full-time basis, a hybrid model that involves both in-person and remote learning, and a full-time remote model, which could be implemented if a new wave of cases closes down schools.
“The political feel is that the commissioner is pushing schools to open with a hybrid model,” Cavanaugh said. “Keeping schools closed comes with economic, societal and mental health costs.”
Right now the guidelines from the commissioner of education and the governor have been delivered from “30,000 feet,” she said. “We have no guidelines for transpiration,” she cited as one example, and food service also is “in a tentative place.”
Additional guidance is expected in mid-July, she said in a July 8 communication.
President Donald Trump has spoken out strongly in opposition to closing schools. “We hope that most schools are going to be open,” Trump said at a recent White House event, adding: “We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open.”
The Hopkinton Reentry Group reviewed guidance on the topic of health and safety, communication and visitation to the school during its first meeting.
Visits to the school by parents and other guests will be minimized, if not almost eliminated, according to the presentation. Zoom and other electronic forms of communications will be used between the district and families. Meetings will be conducted online whenever possible.
Any staff member or student who has symptoms of any kind should plan to stay home. Schools must establish a “COVID sick room” for any child or adult who begins showing symptoms during the school day.
Schools also must establish plans for when a student or faculty member tests positive for COVID-19.
“We need to limit movement and reduce physical proximity between students to ensure safety,” Cavanaugh said.
The group also looked at issues of daily transitions, including staggering arrival and departure times and limiting or eliminating classroom transitions. Floors and travel directions should be marked if possible, with separate exits and entrances established for different groups.
Six feet of distance should be kept between students while eating. Classrooms and other additional locations can be used to serve prepackaged lunches. Surfaces will be disinfected between lunches, and no sharing of food will be allowed.
Questions remain on transportation, but discussion included opening all bus windows, even in inclement weather, modifying start times, increasing the number of bus runs, and encouraging walking, biking and parent transportation.
In the area of communication, schools will provide training for all staff and students, reinforce healthy practices for all students and staff by beginning with a morning message, post appropriate signs, and reward adherence to healthy policies.
The group will meet July 21, Aug. 4 and Aug. 18, the final meeting of the entire group.
“We will keep the community updated as we move through this process,” Cavanaugh said. “We are aware that people are eager to have concrete information so that families can begin to plan for what is sure to be a modified reentry.”