Dartmouth schools to delay return to in-person learning after break

Dec 21, 2020

Dartmouth Public Schools will start remotely for most students for at least the first week after winter break, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford, who outlined the plans at a School Committee meeting on Dec. 21.

The decision comes after a surge in community coronavirus cases has caused school staffing issues due to isolating close contacts, officials said.

Special education and higher needs students will return to school in person on Jan. 4, with the rest of the students logging in for remote learning that week. 

Gifford said that hybrid learning — with different cohorts attending school in person — will likely start again on Jan. 11, although the timing could be delayed further depending on the coronavirus situation.

“We always want people to be prepared for anything,” she noted. “As we keep saying all year, it’s fluid and flexible.”

She stressed that the decision was made in preparation for an expected surge in cases over the coming holiday, and the extra strain on staff that contact tracing would entail.

Quinn School was closed on Dec. 21 due to staffing issues after just a few new cases at the school, Gifford noted. 

“We had the entire cafeteria staff out, just because they were deemed close contacts,” she said. “It’s not that we’ve had an explosion of cases in school — it’s to manage what might become a contact tracing issue as soon as we get back to school.”

“We want kids in school,” she added. “We all can agree on that.”

To that end, Gifford said, officials would set up a Covid hotline monitored daily during the break for parents and families to report a close contact or positive case.

School Business Administrator Jim Kiely told committee members that schools will offer food distribution to families for the first week of January. 

Members of the School Committee were generally supportive of the plans.

“Here's what we know: families are going to congregate over the holiday. That’s a fact,” said committee chair Chris Oliver. “Going [remote] at least the first week in January will allow us the opportunity to see trends, let people start experiencing symptoms, and seek out testing.”

Officials at the meeting also spoke out against community members visibly defying mask rules or attending gatherings.

“This is on us and our community...We are going to have a surge on top of a surge if people don’t stay home,” said School Committee Vice Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins. “I don’t think people truly understand how hard everyone in this school administration is working doing contact tracing.”

“If community spread continues at the rate it does, we will not have the staff to keep our schools open,” she continued. “Whether or not we can come back on the 11th depends on all of us doing the right thing.”

“Don’t send me an email saying ‘I want my kids in school’ and then go to a Christmas party with 20 people,” she added. “If you want your kids at school, stay home with just your family.”