The Sandwich school district’s plan to reopen classrooms in the fall has most students attending classes four days a week.
The district proposed different models for three different grade spans: kindergarten through 6th grade; 7th and 8th grades; and 9th through 12th grades.
At all grade levels, students would have a remote learning day every Monday. Teachers would be expected to assign work that students should complete at home on Mondays.
Superintendent Pamela A. Gould said that having students at home on Mondays would give the district three full days to thoroughly clean the school buildings. She noted that the coronavirus is also believed to live on many surfaces for up to three days and the Monday closures would allow time for the virus to die if it were in the buildings.
At the elementary level, students would be in their classrooms four days per week with face-to-face instruction.
In 7th and 8th grade, all students would be in school four days per week, but would have a combination of face-to-face and “synchronous” learning from within the building. This means that in classrooms where students cannot be safely spaced apart, a satellite space would accommodate the overflow. Teachers would essentially teach to students within a classroom while livestreaming the lesson to the students in the satellite rooms.
Dr. Gould said that the students in the satellite room would tune into the lesson using a headset. The rooms would be supervised by a staff member and Dr. Gould said that the students who are assigned to the satellite room could be on a rotation.
The proposed high school model would have students attending class in-person two days each week while participating in synchronous learning from home two days each week with Monday being an at-home day for all students.
Dr. Gould said that in that model students would be assigned the days they would attend in-person based on their last names.
This model was chosen because there are about 1,050 students at the STEM and high school level and Dr. Gould said that having all of those students in the building every day would mean a lot of people passing in the hallways at any given passing period. She said that she had concerns about the ability to maintain social distancing under those conditions.
There have been a number of guidelines put out by the Massachusetts Department of Education regarding hygiene, facial coverings, and social distancing.
Those guidelines state that all students starting from 2nd grade and up will be required to wear facial coverings, while the coverings will be strongly recommended for the younger grades. Families are asked to provide masks for their children, but the district will also have masks available.
The state is allowing for a minimum of 3 feet between students as long as masks are worn, but Dr. Gould said that the district is aiming for five feet.
There will also be mask breaks scheduled throughout the day to allow students time to remove their masks, most likely when they can be safely spaced among themselves or outside. Hand washing will also be built into the daily scheduling.
There are still some questions concerning transportation, though the state is mandating that students of all ages wear facial coverings while on the school bus.
Dr. Gould said that the plans the district has proposed is designed to keep the health and safety of the students and the staff in mind. The current understanding is that younger children are less likely to contract COVID-19 and if they do, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others. Young adults on the other hand are more likely to both contract and transmit the disease, which is part of the reasoning behind the hybrid model proposed at the high school compared to the in-person learning at the younger levels.
Dr. Gould said the remote Mondays are not meant to last the entire year and a more regular schedule is expected to resume as the pandemic subsides.
Additionally, all staff will be given a COVID-19 antibody test before returning to work and district nurses will be trained on how to administer tests in case they are needed throughout the school year.
Dr. Gould said that they looked at other locations throughout the town that could be used as classroom space such as churches and the former Henry T. Wing School, but ultimately decided that they would be better served using space they have on campus due to logistical issues such as busing and food service.
For families who are not comfortable with sending their children into the school buildings in the fall, the district hopes to offer remote-only options. Those plans are still being worked out as the district waits to hear from teachers who would prefer to teach remotely and from parents who want to keep their children home.
The Sandwich School Committee members expressed support for the plans at the elementary and STEM grades at a workshop meeting on Wednesday, July 15, but were not as enthused with the high school plan.
Board chairman Donald DiGiacomo said that he liked the 7th and 8th grade plan and could not see why the same model could not work for the high school students, too. He said that there are more students in the 8th grade class than in the 11th grade class.
“I get the point that they aren’t going to social distance, but they’re already not social distancing,” he said.
Vice chairwoman Kerri L. Ames said that high school serves to prepare students for their post-school lives such as college, military, and careers and the presented model does not support that.
She also said that this age level is the most susceptible to risky behaviors and being in school helps to prevent those behaviors.
Assistant superintendent Maureen Wiklund said that while they understand that teenagers are already not social distancing, the administration is looking to protect the other people in the building.
“Every adult in the building is at risk,” she said. “The likelihood of a 5-year-old having it is less likely than a young adult having it.”
Mr. DiGiacomo said that he respects that teenagers are not following the guidelines while they are not in school, but he said that reducing the number of days that teenagers are in school is providing more opportunities for them to ignore the guidelines.
Secretary Kristin Bader said that while she commends the administration for the work it has put into creating the plan, she also had grave concerns about the high school model. She said that she had concerns that in a more remote environment, some high school students would struggle and end up dropping out. She said that this could be especially true for students who do not have parental support at home.
“I hope we can come up with a better solution for high school,” she said.
Dr. Gould said that they would go back to the drawing board.
Districts in the state need to present their plans to the state by Friday, July 31, and any educational plans presented will need school board approval first. Conversations will also need to take place with teachers unions to make sure that teachers are on board with anything that is proposed as well.
The next meeting of the school board will take place Wednesday, July 29 and the school plans will be discussed further at that meeting.