Schools receive state guidance on re-opening for summer programs

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North Attleborough High School

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

Summer school programs can re-open as part of the state’s Phase II economic restart plan, though the format will be very different.

Three separate memos issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [DESE] outline new guidance for summer programs. This includes new health and safety guidelines, ordering of supplies to ensure buildings will be properly disinfected, and special education classes.

These memos are referred to as “initial guidance,” and more information is expected to be released prior to the start of summer programs. At this time, guidance on the 2020/2021 academic year has not been released.

Final summer school guidance as well as initial guidance on fall re-opening will be released in the coming weeks,” according to the June 5 School Supply Guidelines. 

Health and safety in the school

June 4-Initial Summer School Re-Opening memo outlines the guidelines required for student and faculty safety. Among some of the new rules include the following:

  • Students and staff must engage in frequent handwashing—upon arrival, before and after meals, after bathroom use, after coughing or sneezing, and before dismissal.
  • Desks must be spaced at least six feet apart and facing the same direction, and protocols must be developed to maintain this distance when students are entering and exiting the building and moving through the school (including to and within restrooms) when feasible.
  • Group sizes are restricted to a maximum of 10 students, with a maximum of 12 individuals, including students and staff.
  • It is not recommended to temperature check students at entry due to the significant number of both false positive and false negative results.
  • Students and staff must wear face coverings or masks, with exceptions only for those students or staff for whom it is not safe to do so due to age, medical conditions, or other considerations. In cases in which face coverings or masks are not possible, strict social distancing of 6 feet is required. Parents will be responsible for providing students with face coverings or masks. Schools must have backup disposable masks available for students who need them.
  • Keep summer programming enrollment at less than 25 percent of a school’s capacity, with no more than 300 students at a time in one building.
  • Provide instruction for 3-4 hours a day. Gym, recess, and electives should only be provided if these offerings can be held outside and following six feet of social distancing.
  • Designate a senior staff person responsible for responding to COVID-19 concerns. Other staff should know who this person is and how to contact this individual
  • Field trips, visitors, and assemblies are not permitted.

What is and is not being offered this summer

North Attleborough Superintendent Scott Holcomb said the focus is on those students who need summer learning as part of their Individualized Education Program, a legal document developed for each public school child in the U.S. who needs special education. It is created through a team of the child’s parents and district personnel who are knowledgeable about the child’s needs.

We’re not offering any enrichment programs,” said Holcomb.

The district’s Grab and Go lunch program provides free meals to anyone in town, regardless of whether they have students on the schools. This will continue throughout the summer, said Holcomb. Along with programs such as Fuel for the Weekend and Lenore’s Pantry, the Grab and Go has helped families impacted by the closure of businesses during the pandemic.

The middle school’s Summer Fun program as well as summer school for those high school students who did not earn a passing grade are not being offered, said Holcomb. The Extended Year Program is still being held, and Holcomb said that it can be done remotely if parents prefer. Google Chromebooks will need to be collected at the end of the academic year, but can be given back for remote summer learning. It’s estimated that 200 students take part in the Extended Year Program.

We understand some of the kids are not fully engaged with learning remotely and they need this one-on-one interaction,” said Holcomb.

Special Education Programs

According to the June 7-Summer 2020 Special Education Services memo, in order to provide in-person instruction over the summer, the following steps must be taken:

  • Identify high-priority students most at need for in-person summer services and communicate with families.
  • Identify, hire, and onboard appropriate staff.
  • Identify and purchase necessary protective equipment.
  • Modify any existing health and safety plans and/or school protocols as needed due to COVID-19.
  • Develop a training plan that includes identification of the staff needing to be trained, procurement of resources and trainers, and a system to confirm all necessary training is completed prior to in-person instruction.

It is essential that staff training be provided before in-person instruction to students with disabilities can be conducted, the June 7 memo states. In addition, it is equally important to educate and train students on health and safety considerations, as well as newly adopted routines and protocols.

Supplies for a clean school

The June 5 memo shows districts the amount of PPE needed based on the number of students in the school. These quantities are per 100 individuals over a 12-week period. For example, 1,200 face masks will be needed for every 100 students, to be given out at a rate of one mask per student per week. This is to supplement the masks that students bring with them.

The federal Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER) provides districts with immediate access to grants to fund the cost of supplies. Money is also available through the CARES Act—approximately $2.5 million to North Attleborough—to cover COVID-related expenses. However this is a reimbursement, and so towns will need to spend first and then apply for the federal funding. In addition, the school is working to bridge a $1.2 million budget shortfall caused when state aid and local receipts were impacted by the pandemic.

We’ll be able to get through it, but people need to realize the school department is looking for $1.2 million on top of increased COVID expenses,” said Holcomb.

Holcomb said that he is working with area superintendents in order to buy supplies in bulk to keep costs down. In the early days of the pandemic, the district bought a number of cleaning supplies when it was thought schools would re-open before summer.

We knew this was coming,” he said.

For the fall, Holcomb said that a number of different models have been proposed, including one with the same guidelines as for summer programs. He said that if new cases of the virus and hospitalizations trend downward, some restrictions may be relaxed.

If the regulations remained the same in the fall, Holcomb said students wouldn’t be in class more than three or four hours a day. There could potentially a morning session and afternoon with cleaning of the buildings in between. One group of students could be in school in one week and distancing learning the next.

We’re waiting with baited breath for DESE,” he said.