Kindergarten phase seen as successful, next two phases to go as planned

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Students at North Attleborough High School eat lunch outdoors. Staff Photo/Max Bowen

By Max Bowen-max.bowen@northstarreporter.com

As the plan to have all grade levels in school four days a week by the end of March moves forward, administration is reviewing how lunches and dismissal will be done.

At a virtual meeting of the School Committee held on March 9, Assistant Superintendent Michelle McKeon said that she had visited the elementary schools to see how kindergarteners were adjusting to being back in the classroom. The week of March 8 saw the first phase of the process, with all kindergarten students being in school four days a week. She added that all the desks were six feet apart and the students were masked.

The kids saw it as their first real day of school,” said McKeon. “The kids were so excited.”

Meetings are being held each week to review the rollout, which continued with grades 6-12 the week of March 15 and grades 1-5 the week after. Superintendent Scott Holcomb said that a recent communication from Commissioner of Education Jeff Reilly indicates that all grade levels must be in school five days a week no later than April 5, a deadline the town intends to meet.

Holcomb said that for those parents that continue to be fully remote, those days will count toward the district’s required 180 days for a school year. However, if parents opt to keep their children in the hybrid format—two days in school and three remote—the remote hours will not be counted.

What that does, if we don’t meet this, it has the potential of withholding of state funds until those hours are made up,” said Holcomb.

Middle and high schools

North Attleborough Middle School Principal Brianne Kelleher said that staff has been working hard to make the school ready. Students will remain in the same classroom all day, though the hope is to slowly bring things back to a more normal routine in the spring. Lunches will either be held in the classes or alternative spaces as needed.

We know kids and families want a more typical lunch scenario in the cafeteria, but at the same time, we want to make sure we are following (regulations) and allowing kids to feel secure at school,” said Kelleher.

The student population at NAMS allows for at least three feet of space between the students, and they will arrive and leave the school with a tiered system.

Peter Haviland, principal of North Attleborough High School, said that rooms such as the theater and library can be used as an overflow section for lunches to ensure students are socially distanced. He has sent surveys to families of students that are fully remote to let them know of the option of returning to school. In the near future plexiglass dividers will be installed on the lunch tables. The traditional arrival methods will resume, with students being dropped off near the modular units.

We’ve got a lot of great things going on, a lot of great things are happening,” said Haviland. “We’re looking forward to a great rest of the school year.”

Parents, students support the decision

Much of the parents in North Attleborough have supported the move to have children back in school four days a week. Le-Ann Dorian has students in the Roosevelt Elementary School, NAHS, and Tri-County Vocational High School. She said the hybrid method has caused both emotional problems and learning loss and she fully supports the decision, though she felt it could have been done sooner.

We need to move forward and actually learn to live with the virus,” said Dorian. “I do not feel this decision should have been solely on the School Committee and was glad the state stepped in.”

Dorian added that her daughter at Tri-County had been having emotional problems from not being in class. She said “seeing the same walls” every day was getting to her and she could not look at the screen of her laptop all day. At one point, she booked a weekend at a hotel to provide a change of scenery. Dorian said her daughter at NAHS has had similar struggles and her sleep schedule had been badly affected.

This is a straight A child who has no motivation to go to class,” said Dorian. “I have a first grader at Roosevelt that got invited back full time in February, but I saw regression in him as well with people. Once the isolation started he had a hard time playing with others—as if it became normal to play alone.”

Shruti Srinivasan said she was grateful to the custodians and lunch staff for their efforts, knowing that it has not been easy to reopen the schools.

All the students really appreciate the time and work you’ve put in,” she said at the meeting.

When it’s OK to stay home

One issue brought up is children learning from home if an illness or suspected COVID case makes going to school impossible. Keith Lapointe—Town Council President and representative for the School Committee-said parents should err on the side of caution when it comes to deciding to keep a sick child home.

The structure established for remote learning will remain in place moving forward. If a child needs to learn remotely due to illness, McKeon said those hours would be counted. On Wednesdays, students will learn remotely and teachers will take those days to plan future remote lessons.

Parents shouldn’t feel pressured,” said Lapointe. “If kids don’t feel well, it should be easy to remote in. If we make it hard, kids are coming in sick. That’s where we’re going to get ourselves in trouble.”