With the spread of COVID-19, the district has been actively discussing a safe reopening plan for all Westford Public Schools this fall. The state required all districts to prepare a plan based on three different scenarios: full remote, hybrid, and in-person. On Saturday, the public came to know that WPS is hoping to follow the hybrid plan.
The meeting on July 27 addressed the details of what this plan would look like. As of now, all students will divide into two pods –Pod A and Pod B– to minimize contact and abide by the CDC’s 6 feet recommendation. The two pods will alternate each day with one pod at school under the teacher’s instructions in the morning, and the second pod at home working individually on assignments. In the afternoon, the pods will switch; the second pod will virtually meet the teacher and the first pod will be released early to work at home for the rest of the day. Pod A and Pod B will alternate in-person learning at schools every week.
Grading will go back to what is normally practiced at school, rather than the credit, no-credit system adapted in the spring. Attendance will be based on assignment engagement and synchronous learning at school.
The reason for an early release plan compared to alternatives was mainly due to lunches. With a six feet distancing guideline, Stony Brook Principal Christopher Chew states it was hard scheduling lunches with the available space. Another factor considered was how manageable it would be for younger children to be wearing a mask; a half-day versus a full day of wearing a face-covering seemed more reasonable. As for all students, both social distancing and contact points were deemed easier to control with an early release.
As for school operations, Superintendent Bill Olsen stresses that everyone will wear masks for the entire school day (minus a few breaks). Upon entrance, the school will not be taking temperatures, so Olsen states that parents will have to pay close attention to symptoms and body temperature.
“We are asking parents to monitor the children, each day. If they’re ill to any degree, please, please do not send them to school,” Olsen stated.
If a student displays symptoms, they will be brought to what is called, a ‘care room’, separate from the nurses’ office. The student will stay there until they are picked up by their parent or guardian.
To limit exposure, Principal Jim Antonelli mentions the transition time at WA will increase to 8-10 minutes with only one-directional movement in hallways. At middle schools, the students will remain in one room while the teachers move from class to class.
All before and after-school care will be canceled, along with chorus at the Elementary schools. Recreational programs and sports are still being discussed.
“Sports are to be determined […] we need to review those sport by sport very carefully,” Olsen said.
Additionally, school timings may be adjusted to better adjust for bus transportation. Buses will be cleaned each route, and each row will have only one student to better minimize contact. School committee member Chris Sanders suggests that looking into a later start time can perhaps aid with the social emotional situation with students and staff as well.
“I would encourage us, if there’s a way to shift with low impact, to do later start times. While it’s not a high priority, I think it might be something pretty doable,” Sanders said.
However, if parents are not comfortable with sending their kids to school, or their kid is immunocompromised, they have the option to opt for a fully remote plan, where learning is both synchronous and asynchronous. Another survey will be sent out to Westford parents for schools to get a more distinct idea of how many kids will follow the hybrid model, and how many will stay at home.
The committee asks that a family commits to either a remote or hybrid plan for one semester, and switch between the plans at the halfway mark of the school year if they wish to do so.
Furthermore, Crisafulli principal Sharon Kennelly and interim Robinson principal Scott Middlemiss presented a plan in two phases to aid the social emotional adjustment for students and staff.
Phase 1 details the practices that are going to be implemented to curb the anxious environment in schools. Transition breaks and check-ins will be implemented throughout the day, and students and staff will participate in mindful activities. Phase 2 explains Panorama Education, which is a software that gives educators data on the social emotional environment students are in.
“If we want our students to focus on the academic expectations at school, we really have to address the social emotional needs of the students […]. We say to the students all the time, ‘We don’t expect you to learn math and reading if you’re not feeling safe and happy at school.’ We know that with this pandemic and school closures, there’s a lot of anxiety and worry and concern of coming back to school,” Middlemiss said.
One of the larger concerns with the hybrid model is how parents that cannot work from home will accommodate and care for their younger children when they return home.
Since the plan is not yet definitive, no votes were taken during the meeting. The committee will likely finalize the basic back-to-school plan and vote upon it at the meeting on August 3.
These are initial plans that are being submitted to the state per their request. The superintendent has made a recommendation to us, but there are no final decisions. There are no final plans, at this point. There will be no votes taken by the committee tonight,” School Committee member Gloria Miller said.