North Attleborough Schools decide DESE recommendation not feasible

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School Superintendent Scott Holcomb

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

In recent weeks, schools have received a number of new guidelines and recommendations from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [DESE] on the fall semester.

While most of these have been followed, there have been some that have proven difficult.

A memo from DESE sent on Aug. 21 addressed the issue of students being allowed to attend school four days a week, as opposed to the two under the hybrid method North Attleborough is using. In this method, students are divided into two cohorts and attend classes in the schools two days a week and remote learn for three. On Wednesdays, both cohorts learn remotely while the schools are thoroughly disinfected.

In past memos, high-need students were the only ones considered for in-person learning four days a week. Now, DESE is recommending this be extended to children of teachers.

Our guidance has previously indicated that districts that have adopted a hybrid or remote learning model should prioritize high-needs students for full-time, in-person learning,” the memo stated. “I recommend these districts also further prioritize children of teachers for full-time, in-person instruction when feasible. Since the models will vary by district, districts will decide locally what constitutes full-time instruction for these students.”

At a recent meeting of the School Committee, Superintendent Scott Holcomb said the changes from DESE have been fairly constant, and this one caused some discussion. When considering teachers, he thought this recommendation should also apply to other school personnel, as well as first responders. Holcomb said following this recent recommendation would result in 200 additional students in the schools four days a week. Doing this would make social distancing and limiting class sizes a significant challenge.

At this time we have a plan going forward and the DESE advisory ran counter to this,” said Holcomb. “We can’t expand the opportunities.”

Holcomb told the committee that this matter would be looked at again within the month, and if the spread of COVID-19 becomes mitigated, they can look at increasing students in school full-time. This would begin with students whose parents are teachers and first responders.

The constant changing of variables makes for plans that are constantly moving and changing,” he said.