By Joseph Paola–North Star Reporter Intern
On March 1 the School Committee took a big step forward by unanimously approving the superintendent’s plan to have students in school four days a week.
This changes the school’s current hybrid schedule which has students divided into two cohorts coming into school on alternating two days a week, with a full online Wednesday half-day. The committee felt confident in the schools’ current guidelines that require masks, daily cleaning, air purifiers, and more in most classrooms, and their ability to keep students safe during the pandemic.
“It’s important to understand that North Attleborough was one of the first district to get kids back in the summer,” said Holcomb at the meeting, which was held in a virtual format. “They said it couldn’t be done. After summer, our doors were open when many others were not.”
Students may still opt to be fully remote, not coming into school on any day, but hybrid students will continue with this new change. The planned dates for this change are as follows:
- March 8-Kindergarten
- March 15-Grades 6-12
- March 22- Grades 1-5
A lift on transportation restrictions earlier in February allow students to ride the bus without any capacity or distance restrictions, other than the bus’s own capacity, but the district asks parents to consider alternative means of transportation to limit student exposure.
The schools look to create six feet of space between students when possible, but following updated Department of Secondary and Elementary Education guidelines, there now only needs to be least three feet of space between students at almost all times.
“One thing we’re seeing with the virus, the virus won’t spread if we follow the protocols,” said Holcomb.
If the changes go through on time, North Attleborough schools will be the first in the state to go to four days a week of in-person classes. As well as continuing fully remote learning, the schools will continue with a full remote quarantine for any student who was exposed to COVID-19 or shows symptoms.
Certain measures will continue such as assigned seating on buses to allow for contact tracing of the virus as the district hopes to use this next month to monitor the effects of a larger in person population and attempt to move forward with a full, five day a week in-person schedule that is targeted for sometime in April.
Self-reporting will continue to be an important part of the schools’ effort to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, especially on the high school level. Health Director AnneMarie Fleming said that all research points to a full reopening of the schools.
“There are so many public health issues around remote learning, depression, learning needs not being met,” she said. “The school has done a phenomenal job.”
On the elementary and kindergarten side, a number of changes are expected. Students will be expected to eat lunch in rows in the classroom, with alternating rows eating lunch at different times to limit the exposure of unmasked students. An effort is being made to return to the more hands-on, tactile learning to move students away from the screens and electronics that have been taking up so much of their time in the past few months.
Administrators also want to try and limit the number of school supplies elementary students need to bring to and from school every day.
Middle school students will remain in a single classroom with their teacher moving room to room for the foreseeable future. The use of lockers is to be determined based on Principal Kelleher’s decision. Changes to lunch are still to be determined at both the middle and high schools as sufficient social distance space is a concern while students don’t have masks on.
At the high school, classrooms will need to be evaluated to determine if each room provides sufficient space for all students. The current four periods a day schedule will continue in an attempt to limit student movement, but it is unsure how it will change if the schools move to five days a week, in-person classes.
During the meeting, there was a concern about teacher safety during a four-day week. Members of the committee and community want to see teachers be vaccinated to keep them as safe as possible. Current policy prevents teachers from getting the vaccine as it prioritizes front-line workers and the elderly. However, the district has found limited evidence of teachers and students contracting the virus while in school. District Nurse Leader Melissa Badger said no school nurses have tested positive for COVID while having multiple exposures to it in school thanks to the safety guidelines put out by the district, state, and country.
The committee was very supportive of the plan, though there were concerns raised over social distancing and how they would respond to so many students being in the building. Committee member John Costello said he had been contacted by a parent who called remote learning a “total failure.”
“Parents and students are struggling,” he said. “I’m glad that we can jump ahead. Our kids need to be back, they need the interaction.”
North Star Editor Max Bowen contributed to this report.