Falmouth School Committee

Falmouth School Committee members discuss the district's continuity of learning plans using Zoom.

The Falmouth School Committee in a three-hour meeting on Tuesday night, July 28, viewed a detailed PowerPoint presentation of the school administration’s preliminary school reopening plan.

Superintendent Lori S. Duerr stressed that the administration intends to stick to its core values.

“We still want students to find joy, and cultivate community,” she said before detailing the reopening plans for September. “All three core values are so important right now. Though it will look different (because of COVID-19), this is still at the forefront of our intention.”

Throughout the meeting, Dr. Duerr and others emphasized repeatedly that “everything could change at a moment’s notice” due to the pandemic situation.

That said, in preparation for re-opening schools in September, Dr. Duerr said that the administration is constantly getting input from families, reopening committees and the school committee, and that “we are working with the reopening committees in every building.”

“We continue to listen to research and scientists as we tweak the school reopening plans,” she said. “If there is any chance of getting students back to school in-person, people need to be disciplined about hygiene.”

Dr. Duerr said it took extensive and sometimes challenging work to create three school learning models for the fall. Those models include in-person learning for students, a hybrid version of school with some in-person learning and some remote learning, and 100 percent remote learning.

All three models are equally effective, Dr. Duerr said, and “fluidity” has been built into the three models in order for families and schools to switch from one to the other quickly if necessary.

The reopening plan covers health and safety issues such as hygiene and masks; distancing; hand hygiene; facilities and operations; teaching and learning; delivery of instruction; accountability for learning; professional learning; support for students with disabilities, homeless students, those in foster care and English learners; and school-specific plans detailed by the schools.

Highlights of the preliminary plan include:

  • Each student will receive one cloth mask. Families are invited to provide more, and the school system is also trying to do more by collecting disposable masks. “We have 40,000 disposable masks right now,” Dr. Duerr said.
  • Students will have assigned seats in classrooms and desks will all face the same direction.
  • Students in pre-kindergarten through grade 8 will be assigned to cohorts, which means they will stay with the same students throughout the school day.
  • All classrooms will have direct access to a hot water sink or hands-free sanitation station.
  • Students in grades 2 through 12 will wear masks even when six feet apart, with “mask breaks”—short breaks when indoors and longer breaks when outdoors.
  • All physical education classes will take place outside, weather permitting.
  • One-way directional hallways will be set up in schools where possible.
  • School windows will be kept open, weather permitting. Hospital-grade filters will be put into the schools’ ventilation systems where possible and the school system is looking to hire extra custodial staff for cleaning on a temporary basis, if possible.

If additional custodial staff cannot be found, the current staff is prepared to work extra hours. Electrostatic disinfectant sprayers have been ordered to sanitize hard-to-reach areas, and high-touch areas of buildings such as door handles will be sanitized several times each day, in addition to the after hours cleaning of buildings.

There is currently no hybrid model for the elementary schools and the Morse Pond School but that could change, Dr. Duerr said.

Students in grades kindergarten through 2 who are participating in remote learning will still participate with their classes remotely, but with the support of an additional remote learning teacher.

Teachers have been trained in the teaching technologies, including Google Classroom, Schoology, GoogleMeet, Playlists, Zoom and Modern Teacher, which offer a variety of ways for students to approach learning and allow for consistent, personalized learning that can be done wherever the student is located.

“These (systems) make students more responsible for learning and how they access and report it; it lets them be more invested,” Lawrence School 7th grade English teacher Krista Hennessy said during a presentation on some of the new teaching and learning tools that will be used that she gave at the school committee meeting.

“There will be a variety of ways for students to approach a subject,” high school math teacher Patricia Bourgeault said during her presentation to the committee. “There will be a lot of options in assignments and more methods for assessment.”

“Spring was not the remote experience we hoped for,” Ms. Bourgeault said. “But everyone has learned and grown since then. Now, we have more structure and understanding. The transition plans will work. We can switch at a moment’s notice no matter where the students are.”

Director of Student Services Joan Woodward emphasized that the school system is “committed to providing education in alignment with the needs of students with disabilities and those with Individual Education Plans (IEPs).”

The goal is to prioritize in-person education for these students, Dr. Woodward said.

Clear plastic shields have been ordered to use with younger children and specialized programs so that facial expressions can be seen, she said.

Because the school situation remains tentative and uncertain, Dr. Duerr recommends that families also have three plans that correspond to the school’s three models for student learning in the fall.

“I know it’s unsettling for everyone, and I want to tell families I empathize,” Dr. Duerr said. “But it is what we have to do. We want to start school in-person, but the COVID numbers can change every week. We could be in any of the three models at any time.”

A draft of the school administration’s preliminary re-opening plan—which Dr. Duerr said may change a bit by next week—can be seen at www.falmouth.k12.ma.us/faq. This draft will also be sent by email to all families with school-age children.

In addition, a Zoom forum will be held Tuesday, August 4, at 6 PM. The Zoom link will be sent to families as soon as it is set up.

Tuesday’s forum will not include another presentation of the preliminary reopening plans; rather, it is intended as a question-and-answer opportunity for families planning for their children’s schooling in September.

Dr. Duerr encourages any families who have questions or comments for the school administration to write to: info@falmouth.k12.ma.us.

“It may take two to three days to receive a response because of the volume of emails we are receiving, but we will get back to you,” she said.

“This is uncharted territory for all of us,” Ms. Bourgeault said. “We’re trying to design for three scenarios and we don’t know which one we will use.”

“We have grown as teachers,” she said, “And the time we have put in will ‘pay it forward’ in the future.”

“We are trying to look at things differently, and the schools are being creative,” Dr. Duerr said. “I give the staff and school principals great credit for thinking outside the box while keeping kids safe. I hope families can see how things have changed since the spring.”

Dr. Duerr said the school bus situation is still a big concern and she does not yet have all the answers on that situation.

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