School Committee finalizes full-time reopening dates: April 5 for K-5, April 26 for middle/high school

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Hopkinton elementary schools will reopen full-time April 5 and the middle and high school on April 26, School Committee members agreed Thursday.

Remote learning will be available through the end of the year, but remote learners also will have the option to return to school full-time.

For the elementary schools, students will keep their current teachers, except in cases where remote learners change to full-time classroom and vice versa, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said.

Class sizes should not change, she said. Social distancing would be reduced to 3-4 feet “from the center of desk to the center of desk,” she said, with 6 feet maintained during lunch and mask breaks.

Committee members unanimously agreed to the April 5 reopening. The state mandated that elementary schools must open full-time no later than that date.

For the middle school, the April 26 date was approved by all members except Joe Markey, who questioned why the opening date could not be sooner.

He preferred April 12. “To push out a full month on operational issues that could be done sooner concerns me,” he said.

Principal Alan Keller said he needed more time to reach out to parents who had not responded to the survey about their plans for their children and to work on scheduling. Concerns had been raised that some classes could include as many as 35 children, but Keller said HMS staff is working to decrease these numbers.

Having April vacation to finalize details would be helpful, Keller said, because the school would be closed and reopening could be the primary focus without day-to-day issues interfering.

Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty said she would follow the principal’s guidance.

“I’m thrilled that so much has been defined, but I know that the devil is in the details,” committee chair Amanda Fargiano said in advocating for more time. “That last inch will kill you sometimes.”

At the high school, the return plan changed this week because the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that schools would not be allowed to offer hybrid models that combine in-person education with remote learning.

This negated the district’s previous high school return plan, which called for students to attend only four periods in person, from 7:25-11:45 a.m. Students then would have returned home, had lunch and attended their final class of the day on Zoom.

This plan would have eliminated concerns about providing lunch for all students within a 6-foot social distance.

Instead, principal Evan Bishop said, the school has been “thinking outside the box” about how to accommodate lunch. This could include using the athletic center and moving classes from there to other locations, including the Hopkinton Center for the Arts.

“We’re still getting our heads around lunch,” he said. “We haven’t fully fleshed it out.”

He said juniors and seniors will be “strongly, strongly” encouraged to use their privileges during lunch break and eat somewhere outside of the building. Outdoor eating also will be encouraged.

Making these logistics work takes time, he said. “Any date before April vacation would be challenging,” he said.

Seniors’ last day of classes will be May 26, and senior internships and projects will begin April 26. Both will reduce the number of students in the building.

The April 26 date will allow seniors to have at least a month of traditional schooling before their Hopkinton High School education ends.

Committee members agreed to vote on a reopening date for the high school, rather than delay it, so parents can have as much time as possible to plan.

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