School year to start remotely on September 15
The verdict is in: Dartmouth Public School students will start the school year with remote learning on September 15, with the possibility of moving to a hybrid plan later in the year.
At a virtual meeting on August 10, the School Committee voted 4–1 in favor of the phased reopening, which begins with no in-person classes until a date to be decided in the future.
School officials had been leaning towards a hybrid plan that would see different cohorts of students attend school on alternate days.
But they ultimately decided that with so much uncertainty, more planning was needed to start even partial in-person learning.
“I want to see students back in school in-person as much as any other parent,” Committee Chair Chris Oliver said. “But I cannot in good conscience support a hybrid plan at this time.”
“There are so many what-if scenarios that we’ve got to do better with trying to come up with answers to,” he added.
Superintendent Dr. Bonny Gifford presented a timeline for the district that includes four phases.
From August 31 to September 14, teachers will be instructed in remote learning technology.
Gifford added that the district is also planning a socially distanced meeting between teachers and a small cohort of students to go over expectations for the upcoming school year, which she compared to an open house.
Full remote learning would then begin September 15. During this period, Gifford said the district’s special education department will work to strengthen its in-person plans for high needs students.
District staff will teach virtually from their classrooms, where they will be the only ones present.
In the third phase, students would begin hybrid learning, although families will have the option of keeping their children in remote learning.
Under the hybrid model, two cohorts of students would come to school on alternate days, with in-person lessons structured like a regular school day and teachers giving the same lesson to each group.
Every other day would be used for remote learning at home, during which the students can complete assigned projects, videos, and reading. Grades and attendance would be recorded as normal.
Safety requirements in the building would include mandatory face coverings and six feet of social distance at all times, hand sanitizer available in all rooms, hallways designated for one-way movement, and excessive furnishings removed from classrooms and other spaces for easier sanitizing and cleaning.
Lunches would be served in classrooms, supervision would be required in restrooms and hallways, and an isolation unit would be created in the nurse’s office. Students would be required to remain with their same cohort and grade level at all times.
Phase four would be a full in-person return.
Committee member John Nunes, the lone dissenting vote, said that after so many months away from the classroom, it’s important that students see their teachers again.
“Teachers need to see the students and students need to see the teachers,” Nunes said. “They learn better face-to-face.”
Other committee members agreed, noting that many of their own children were telling them how excited they were to go back to school.
“I’m hearing them talk and plan their schedules,” member Mary Waite said. “But there are things we cannot prepare for.”
Oliver cited a recent tour the committee took of some of the schools as the reason he voted for the plan. He said that after seeing a socially distanced classroom he felt that students would have a hard time learning in hot rooms while wearing masks.
“I don’t think that an in-person or hybrid model right now would make a lick of difference,” Oliver said.
Following the vote, committee members expressed their interest to continue discussing the plans at upcoming meetings. Vice Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins noted that if Dartmouth’s number of coronavirus cases continues to remain low, schools should reopen under the hybrid plan “sooner rather than later.”
“If it’s not safe now, when will it be safe?” Jenkins asked. “We’re going to be living with Covid for a long time.”
According to Gifford, the district also plans to host a virtual livestream where school administrators will answer questions from parents about the reopening plans.
“Our core responsibility is to get kids in school,” Gifford said. “We will continue to work very hard to get them back.”
To submit a question for the livestream, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The next School Committee meeting is set for August 18.