Superintendent: School Committee may soon form group to consider eventual full in-person return to school

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School Committee members may form a group to consider returning students to school full-time, superintendent Carol Cavanaugh said Wednesday during an appearance on HCAM’s Hopkinton Hangout Hour.

That group, which is scheduled to be discussed at the Dec. 17 School Committee meeting, would look at issues involved in a full return, Cavanaugh said.

She reiterated her previous comments that a full return would not be likely until at least after January and February, which she said are poised to be “very, very difficult months for coronavirus.’’

Lunchtime has been “a real obstacle’’ to a full return, she said, because of the lack of space for students to socially distance while they are eating and forced to go without masks.

One possibility she has considered is having high school students take four classes — each one hour long — in the building, then leave for the day. After a 90-minute break for traveling and eating, the students would have their fifth class remotely.

“We could eliminate lunch’’ through this potential model, she said, while still bringing students together daily.

One concern is the time it would take to “undo’’ the work put in over the summer to ensure that classrooms have ample room for students to remain separate. These efforts included moving desks from most rooms and setting up safety protocols, such as plexiglass separators and signage.

“It took weeks’’ to set this up, she said. Undoing it will also take effort, and she questioned whether, for example, February vacation would provide enough time for the work to be completed.

Students remain on track to return to the hybrid model next Monday (Dec. 7) after spending this week in full remote learning because of concerns about COVID cases following the Thanksgiving break.

“We’re ready to come back’’ Monday with “business as typical,’’ she said, noting that she hesitates to say “business as usual’’ during these very unusual times.

The decision for a week-long closing reflected concerns about potential post-Thanksgiving infections.

Today, nearly a week after Thanksgiving, Massachusetts recorded its highest COVID case count yet, with 4,613 confirmed cases, the most recorded in a single day since the pandemic began. On Tuesday night, Hopkinton health director Shaun McAuliffe reported that Hopkinton had 47 active cases, with “significant increases every day.”

“Is that the result of Thanksgiving?’’ Cavanaugh asked rhetorically. “Logic would dictate that it was.’’

Schools are torn between two scientific facts: COVID-19 transmission does not seem to be an issue within school buildings, but cases are rising on the outside, she said.

Mirroring these mixed messages, parents have expressed varying views, she said, with some calling for a return to full-time school while others support closing schools while cases rise.

One thing appears certain, though: “At some point, we’re all going to come back,’’ she said.

Until then, Cavanaugh said she takes comfort in seeing students in the buildings, even on a limited basis. “It’s just wonderful,’’ she said.

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