Social distancing could come to Dartmouth schools this fall

Updated to incorporate new quotes from the superintendent
Jun 25, 2020

Dartmouth's schools will look very different come the fall. 

Students and teachers wearing masks. Desks spaced at least three feet apart. These are just a couple of the new safety measures being discussed by Dartmouth school officials following the state’s announcement of school reopening guidelines on June 25. 

Under the plan, students in the second grade and up — as well as adults — will be advised to wear masks or face coverings and maintain physical distance. 

In a statement, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford said that based on current trends, she expects that students will make a full return to in-person learning come September. 

Gifford added that the district is currently reviewing the guidelines to formulate a plan for Dartmouth.

“This will require patience, understanding, and cooperation,” she said. 

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. 

For in-person learning, Gifford said the district is looking into how to set buildings to implement social distancing, how to deal with immuno-compromised staff and students, and transportation — something the state has not yet released any guidance on.

“There are just so many unknowns,” the superintendent added. “And that’s what makes things so difficult.”

If remote learning is to continue or return because of a second spike of the virus, the superintendent said the plan is to try and make that curriculum “more rigorous.”

As for the hybrid model, Gifford said the distinct has been looking into ideas such as alternating weeks students and staff come in, shortening school days, or taking off Fridays to allow for a day of cleaning. 

“Even with all of these plans, the state continues to tell us that more guidance is coming,” Gifford said.

Gov. Charlie Baker said the decision to reopen schools was based in part on the lower infection rate among children and the negative impact of keeping children out of the classroom.

“We’re obviously encouraged by all of the progress that’s been made here in Massachusetts over the course of the past several months,” he said at a press conference on June 25.

Baker also announced that about $200 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund will be made available for costs related to reopening schools.

Schools will be eligible for up to $224 per student for costs such as training for staff, reconfiguring school spaces, leasing temporary facilities, and acquiring health and hygiene supplies.

Gifford said plans will be sent to the Department of Education in August.

Soon, the district will send out a questionnaire to all parents to determine what their concerns and opinions on how school should look in the fall.

“We’re just trying to take things one day at a time,” Gifford said.