Superintendent shares school reopening details with anxious families

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Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh shared further details of the two possible options for school reopening Thursday night during a presentation and public hearing hosted by the Hopkinton School Committee.

The district is offering two choices: a hybrid model in which students attend class in-person and work from home on alternating days, and a fully remote option, in which students receive instruction and work entirely from home.

Families will receive an email Friday asking them to decide on one of the two options. Responses must be received by Monday.

The quick turnaround is necessary, Cavanaugh said, to provide adequate time to accommodate the complexities of scheduling about 4,000 students. There will be a “grace period” of about two weeks in September and likely a few additional periods during the school year when parents can choose to switch from one model to another, she said.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) required school districts to submit plans for three learning options: a full-time, in-person instructional plan; a hybrid option combining in-person instruction and remote learning; and a fully remote learning plan.

A 36-member Hopkinton Reentry Advisory Group was organized to examine various criteria related to school reopening in September after the extended spring closing due to COVID-19.

The district decided against a full-time return to school because there was not enough space to allow for 6 feet of social distancing. DESE recently allowed schools to provide 3 feet of social distancing, but Cavanaugh described the option as “not ideal or desirable.”

Parents surveyed earlier this month mirrored those concerns.

At a 6-foot distance, 63.9 percent of respondents to a district survey said they would return to school, 25.4 percent were not sure and 10.7 percent said they would not. But when the distancing was reduced to 3 feet, 38.9 percent of parents would send their students back to school, 37 would not and 24.2 percent were not sure.

The hybrid model would bring students into school on one day, then have them work remotely the next. On their home day, students will have a combination of homework and new learning, much of it on their own. On these days, students would be “very, very autonomous” with little to no teacher interaction, Cavanaugh said.

Students would be divided into two groups, one of which will have class in school while the other works from home. The in-school option will follow the same schedule as previous years, except for additional time built in for hand sanitizing and mask breaks, Cavanaugh said.

Students with an individualized education program (IEP) or those who qualify for English for speakers of other languages services have the option to attend class daily.

The remote learning will be taught by Hopkinton teachers “whenever we can,” Cavanaugh said. Elementary students will receive the same classes as their hybrid peers, but possibly with a non-Hopkinton public school teacher, she noted.

Middle and high school students will receive the same classes they enrolled in “as long as we can find an instructor and have the funding,” Cavanaugh said. “In some cases, they will take online classes.”

Details on teacher scheduling is being negotiated with the Hopkinton Teachers Association.

The information on families’ plans for the fall will impact these decisions, Cavanaugh said, which is another reason the answers are required soon. “We need to match the needs of our students with the capabilities of our work force,” she said.

The option of live-streaming classrooms, which had been mentioned by some parents, can be taken “off the table,” Cavanaugh said, noting that recording classroom activity has resulted in situations where a teacher’s words or actions are “taken out of context.”

“I’m really uneasy about the livestream,” she said. “It’s not a good operational option.”

As School Committee members made their way through hundreds of questions from the public, committee chair Amanda Fargiano acknowledged the process was “challenging for everyone.”

“Each family has to take their own situation into account, review the data and make the best decision,” she said.

Fargiano said the committee will compile more information about the options and make it available for parents in the near future.

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