School officials lean toward half capacity, alternating weeks

Jul 20, 2020

Could Dartmouth students come to school on alternate weeks?

Students at the Dartmouth Public Schools may be looking at this and other possibilities for in-person learning this fall as administrators explore their options to ensure safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The idea was floated at a School Committee meeting on July 20, where Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford updated officials on the district’s forthcoming plans.

Plans are currently being developed around survey results and initial state guidelines released on June 25. The guidelines do not state when students will return to in-person classes. Instead, there are three possible approaches: a complete return to in-person classes, a continuation of remote learning, or a mix of both in-person and online classrooms. 

Gifford said that with less than a month before they must submit their reopening plans to the state, proposals are still being developed.

“There are a lot of things to think about in any kind of back to school plan,” she said. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen with the virus itself.”

For in-person learning, Gifford said the district is looking into how to implement social distancing, how to deal with immuno-compromised staff and students, and transportation — something she said she expects to hear from the state later this week.

“We’re hoping that it’s better than the initial thought of how we can get our kids to school,” she said.

If a full return were to happen this fall, Gifford said that due to social distancing requirements, the district has had to look into expanding seating into nontraditional environments such as auditoriums, cafeterias, and even closets.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Parent feedback has also been an important part of the process.

A school district survey showed that 60 percent of parents want their children to return to in-person learning, Gifford said. And if the schools reopen, 74 percent said they’d let their children go.

School Committee Vice Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins said that she understands how much parents want their children to return to school, but wanted to remind parents that because the guidelines can change, no one knows what school will look like.

“I don’t want to set people up for disappointment in the fall,” she said. “I don’t see how we can be fully face-to-face for five days a week.”

With a hybrid model comprising both online and in-person learning, Gifford said students and staff could alternate weeks at school or even alternate each day. Most survey respondents liked an alternating schedule of some kind, she noted.

But Gifford said there would not be anything definitive to share with parents until around the end of the month. 

As for remote learning, the superintendent said that a group is currently working on a plan with “more robustness” that would include things like scheduling and grading.

“We really need to step up our game if we were to go completely remote,” Gifford said.