Amherst, Pelham schools returning to remote learning

  • Children board buses Tuesday at Wildwood School in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/21/2020 8:58:56 AM

AMHERST – All public school students in the Amherst and Pelham schools will return to entirely remote instruction Monday after just seven days back in the classrooms.

Superintendent Michael Morris informed parents and guardians Tuesday that the district’s agreement with the Amherst Pelham Education Association related to health metrics during the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the move. The agreement also requires teaching to remain remote for a full two weeks and could push back the in-person instruction for older children in the elementary and secondary schools to later in the fall.

A Joint Labor Management Safety Committee meeting Monday afternoon, which brings together representatives from the teachers union and the school district, agreed to the plan that will allow in-person instruction for the youngest students and special populations to continue through this week before going back to remote learning.

The Amherst and Amherst-Pelham Regional school committees on Tuesday evening received almost uniform negative feedback from parents about the decision, with several citing the threshold of COVID-19 cases as being too low, and remote learning being disruptive.

John Larsen of Pelham, parent of a kindergarten student, wrote a letter to the committees about the uncertainty and turmoil that could be caused by the decision.

“I am concerned that the currently agreed-upon threshold for shutting down in-person learning is too low,” Larsen wrote.

“I believe it is unconscionable to have introduced these small children to school and to pull them back out because of cases not in our local communities, as well as to restart a six-week process over from scratch,” wrote Bennett Hazlip, a parent of Fort River and middle school students.

School Committee members shared the frustration with parents, though it was unclear if there were any avenues for adjusting the agreement immediately.

According to the agreement, the weighted cases per 100,000 people can’t exceed 28 over a seven-day rolling average at any time, with a formula that gives more weight to cases in Hampshire County but also factors in cases in Franklin and Hampden counties. That seven-day rolling average stood at 32.8 on Tuesday, even though Morris noted in his letter that there had been no spike in cases in Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury or Leverett, the communities that make up the district.

The union issued a statement from its members of the Joint Labor Management Safety Committee, Jean Fay, Meka Magee and Krista Larsen, observing that it was appropriate to go remote, but also to continue in-person for this week unless the case count grows.

“In our agreement with the District, we have a set threshold metric that dictates whether school will be in-person or full remote,” the statement said. “This is to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff in times when our local cases are high.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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