The School Committees for Southborough & Northborough voted tonight to support administration’s plan to pursue increased in-person learning for K-5 schools 4 days per week.
While some of the details are still being fleshed out, the Committee showed confidence in the decision makers overseeing the process.
The motions were contingent on the administration continuing its close work with its Medical Advisory Team. The shift in late March would be based on a determination that it is feasible to proceed (balancing the health and safety of students and staff).
The meeting began with a presentation by the administration, including a lot of background on Covid transmission data by the Medical Advisory Team. Although with some updates, the presentation essentially covered the same ground as last week’s webinar for parents. The biggest difference was the back and forth that followed with committee members.
School Committee members were unanimously enthusiastic about the Medical Advisory Team’s contributions to the schools’ efforts.
Another influencing factor was the overall sentiment members have been hearing from parents supporting increased attendance. Backing that up was the results of the learning model selections due last Sunday.
Only one Southborough student was reported as shifting from Hybrid to the Stand Alone Remote Program due to the planned changes. Meanwhile, 26 Southborough SARP students switched to the Hybrid model. (You can see more details, including Northborough’s figures in the data right.)
It is worth noting that 23% of Southborough families families didn’t complete the enrollment form. (The district had communicated that anyone who didn’t submit a form would be counted as remaining in their current learning model.)
Prior to voting, members asked questions and raised concerns they heard from some parents worried or upset about the shift.
Details the district acknowledged it is still working through include doubling the number of students who will be riding buses and eating lunches without masks.
Just this afternoon, the state issued new guidance on school transportation. Operations Director Keith Lavoie said that the regulations will now allow two students per seat, double what they had been restricted to. Southborough member Jessica Devine asked if that meant that students would be closer than 3 feet apart.
Superintendent Gregory Martineau responded that the Medical Advisory Team hasn’t had a chance to discuss the revised state guidance. However, Lavoie noted that even before the state changed its guidelines the district was close to completion of a revised plan that would cover most of the bus routes under the old rules. If there are issues with some routes, families will be contacted.
As for the need to maintain 6 feet distance during lunches, Lavoie said he hadn’t heard need from the schools for increasing lunch periods. Instead, principals were working on finding the space to accommodate more students. In one Northborough school, they are planning to switch their cafeteria and gym to make it work.
Southborough member Kamali O’Meally asked the administration to clarify for parents their thinking on why the additional in-person days are important.
Finn Principal Clayton Ryan, who runs the school for Southborough’s youngest children, spoke about the importance of the social interactions the kids have been missing. He also reminded that they believe consistency of instruction is one of the key foundations for academic success. He said the 2 day per week Hybrid model wasn’t ideal for that.
Amy Souls, Principal of Northborough’s Marion Zeh school agreed. She also asserted there is nothing that fully replicates live in-person learning.
Earlier in the discussion both principals addressed how students are handling wearing masks appropriately. They each enthused that students are doing a fabulous job – not even taking mask breaks when you think they would want to.
As for how teachers feel about the plan to increase student attendance, Martineau acknowledged that about 40% had expressed some concerns about personal safety. The administration and Medical Advisory Team has been working to reassure them and answer questions about safety mitigation.
He stated that overall teachers were dedicated to students and would move forward with the plan. He opined that the student screening program will be an important factor. The Superintendent encouraged parents to sign their children up.