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Superintendent: HPS unlikely to move to fully in-person learning anytime soon

by | Aug 18, 2020 | Education, Z-Lead Image Front Page

The Hopkinton schools are unlikely to switch to a fully in-person model anytime soon, superintendent of schools Carol Cavanaugh said Tuesday during the Hopkinton Hangout Hour program on HCAM-TV.

The requirement by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to keep 6 feet of distance between students at lunch, when masks need to be removed, is “really prohibitive,’’ Cavanaugh said, adding that the state would have to “relax that standard’’ for a switch to be workable.

“We just do not have enough space’’ to accommodate all the students at lunch with a 6 feet distance, she said, which is why no more than half of the student body will attend school at one time. “The 50 percent got us to 6 feet.’’

Members of the School Committee unanimously approved a hybrid model that combines in-person instruction with remote learning when students return Sept. 16.

Students are to attend class in an “A/B’’ model. Students have been placed in one of two groupings (Green/Orange). Students in each group will attend school at home one day and have in-person instruction the next. The other group will have the same schedule but on opposite days.

On remote days, students will complete assignments and possibly view videos related to them, Cavanaugh said, adding that students will “have to get their hands dirty’’ and work on the assigned tasks. “There’s going to be an independent piece that families need to be on top of,’’ she said.

Students can switch from remote to hybrid, or the reverse, on three specific dates: Oct. 1, with the switch to happen Oct. 15; Nov. 15, with the switch to happen Dec. 1; and Jan. 15, with the switch to happen Feb. 1. That is the last date changes can take place.

Students also have the option to choose a fully remote model, with all instruction happening online.

Fully remote learning will look different than in the spring, Cavanaugh said, and will be more reflective of a school day, with homework assigned and grades given out.

Fully remote students in grades K-8 will have a parallel schedule with those in the hybrid model, the superintendent said. “You’re getting 6 1/2 hours of instruction’’ with Hopkinton teachers, being taught to the same standards as hybrid students, she said.

High school may be different, depending on the class. If only a few students opt for a specific class, they may have to join an online program with another teacher because having a Hopkinton teacher for so few students would not be cost-effective, Cavanaugh said.

The hybrid model was popular with families surveyed. About 75 percent preferred a hybrid model of 1,172 parents surveyed, with a quarter opting for remote learning full-time.

These numbers vary by grade. In some elementary schools, as many as 40 percent of families are choosing remote learning, while the high school has only 12 percent of students learning remotely. That difference, Cavanaugh said, may reflect the more “complex’’ material taught at the high school level, which would make parents “shy away’’ from remote involvement.

She said negotiations with the Hopkinton Teachers Association are moving along every day, with the goal of getting the situation “wrapped up’’ by Aug. 31. Members of the association have not endorsed a specific plan but have raised questions about whether students and staff can return to school safely.

The district also is developing a set of metrics, working in conjunction with Department of Public Health and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to determine when schools will close. One way to do that is to keep an eye on cases within the community, Cavanaugh said.

Fevers, body aches and other symptoms of flu season mirror those of COVID-19, adding to the challenge.

Parents can help by quarantining their families ahead of the start of school, Cavanaugh said, noting that going to the local grocery store might be OK, but a trip to Rhode Island beaches could open people to possible exposure.

“If we start having widespread COVID cases we will be in a shutdown mode,’’ she said.

Cavanaugh also asked parents to be “a smidge more patient’ as further logistics are developed, such as exact pickup times and locations at individual schools. Once principals know this information, she said, they will share it with families.

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