By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
The Acushnet School Committee approved the 2020-2021 school reopening plan on August 11 and released the details of a phased-in hybrid-learning model for Acushnet students grades 2-8 while offering four-day on-site learning to pre-school, kindergarten, and grade 1 students and subsets of students with specific needs, such as those receiving special education services.
Grades 2-8 hybrid students will arrive to school two days a week and learn remotely the other three days. All students will receive remote learning on Wednesdays.
Parents and guardians have also have the option to enroll their child as fully remote learners.
On 8/14 parents were asked to respond by 8/18 to a mandatory online survey to state definitively which option they would be selecting for their child and whether they would require school bus transportation. Any requests to transition from fully remote to hybrid would not be considered until the end of the first semester in January.
The first day of school is slated for Wednesday, 9/16 during “Phase 1” of reopening, and students in all grades will report to school remotely from home. Full-day on-site learning for pre-school and high needs students commences on 9/17 while remote learning continues for all other students. Hybrid students grades 2-8 will be split into two learning cohorts A and B alternating between on-site and remote.
“Phase 2” opens on Monday, 9/21 welcoming kindergarten and grade 5 Cohort A students back to school for half-day morning on-site learning. Students will go home for lunch, and remote learning will resume for the rest of the afternoon.
Cohort B hybrid students will participate remotely 9/21-9/25.
Grade 1 and grades 4 and 6 Cohort A students will attend school on-site for a half-day on 9/22, all students will go remote on Wednesday, and on Thursday grade 2 and 7 Cohort A students will have their first half day of on-site. Friday on-site will be grades 3 and 8 Cohort A students.
The second week of Phase 2 from 9/29-10/2 will follow the same schedule for Cohort B students while Cohort A takes a week of remote learning, again, with all students receiving remote learning every Wednesday.
Once Phase 3 starts the week of 10/5-10/9, kindergarten and grade 1 students will attend on-site for the full day, and Cohort A grades 2-8 will begin full days of on-site learning twice a week and alternate thereafter with Cohort B students each week.
All students will receive a student orientation and remote learning assignments from 9/16-10/2.
“Of course, we know that under normal circumstances, students would be best served in schools every day, interacting with their peers and engaged in live classroom learning,” said Acushnet Schools Superintendent Dr. Paula Bailey in her introduction to the Re-Entry Plan 2020-2021. “While our educators and families worked incredibly hard last spring to implement remote learning, we know that approach presented enormous challenges, did not reach all students, particularly those with the greatest needs, and is not an adequate substitute for in-person interaction with teachers.
“When out of school, our students also lack access to all of the academic, mental, and physical supports that help ensure their social-emotional well-being, particularly in navigating the effects of trauma during these tremendously challenging times,” she continued. “Therefore, we believe our families and students deserve more than a fully remote learning plan.”
According to Dr. Bailey, a feasibility study of Acushnet Elementary School and Ford Middle School showed that fully reopening for full on-site learning for all students could not be possible due to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) physical distancing requirements that would require more classrooms than are available and more staff than is fiscally possible.
“…[We] can make significant changes in our school schedules and operating procedures to make a partial return to in-person learning both safe and successful,” said Dr. Bailey. “This approach will require strategies to ensure physical distancing, as well as a series of other critical health and safety measures, including wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, screening regularly for symptoms of illness, and staying home from school when sick, among others. Our planning process includes a comprehensive set of strategies and investments to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.”
On-site classes will be smaller socially-distanced groups, and all staff and students will be required to wear a face mask unless they provide a doctor’s note with a medical or disability exemption. Masks can be disposable or reusable; however, they must be made of at least two layers of breathable material, fully cover the mouth and nose, and fit snugly under the chin and along the side of the face secured by ties or ear loops.
Not allowed: neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas, face coverings containing valves, mesh material, or holes of any kind.
The school district will provide a mask to anyone without one.
The school district has adopted a number of safety procedures and policies, including hospital-grade disinfectant spray inside each classroom, which will be disinfected at the end of each day. Common spaces and bathrooms will be disinfected throughout the day, and a new machine that disperses a fine disinfectant fog will be used in each classroom and across the buildings when students are not in the building. The HVAC system has also been upgraded to increase fresh air circulation and when possible, teachers will be encouraged to open windows to further increase airflow.
For students enrolled in the fully remote learning option, each student will be assigned a remote learning teacher who will monitor their programming and assist them with their assignments, grading, and maintain communication. The remote school day will follow the normal school hours of elementary and middle school, and students will have access to an online learning platform at no tuition cost to the family.
Remote students will be greeted at the start of the school year during an initial Zoom meeting and provide Google Classroom training if required. Students and families will be offered a check-in opportunity each week with the remote learning teacher on Wednesdays.
Ahead of all students’ return to the classroom remotely on 9/16, school staff will report on-site starting on 8/31 and will engage in professional development each day.
As a result of anticipated gaps in students’ learning after the sudden closure of school back in March, students will participate in re-entry workshops that will assist teachers in determining baseline data to facilitate differentiated teaching that will include appropriate review materials and lessons to address individualized learning.
The re-opening plan and a presentation of the plan is available at website www.acushnetschools.us.
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