Amherst administrators, teachers union reach agreement on school reopening

  • Playground at Fort River Elementary in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/14/2020 12:45:20 PM

AMHERST — Preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders, along with special population students at all grade levels in the Amherst elementary and secondary schools, will be able to be in class five days a week beginning Oct. 1 under a tentative agreement reached between the teachers union and school officials.

The agreement, announced late Friday afternoon, would bring students back for school days that would run from 9:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. for elementary students in Amherst and Pelham, and 9 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. for secondary students at the Amherst Regional Middle and High schools, which serve students from Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett.

The Amherst Pelham Education Association and Amherst Regional Public School District issued a joint statement related to the agreement:

“We are grateful for the mutual dedication of all individuals involved in ensuring an equitable and safe return to learning for our community and are excited to work with our families and students to ensure the best school year possible.”

Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald made a separate comment that she posted to her official Facebook page.

“I’m deeply grateful for the incredible dedication of the APEA, the district and the bargaining teams who committed many hours of hard work and discussion that led to this tentative agreement,” McDonald said.

Under the plan, second and third graders would return to classes Oct. 19, but most students would have to wait nearly another month, with grades 4 to 6 and middle and high schoolers having no in-person classes until Nov. 16.

When grades 4 to 6 do return, it would be on the same schedule as their younger peers, but either for two days per week or five days per week depending on transportation and classroom space. That will be determined by binding surveys that will be sent to families and analyzed in October.

For middle and high schoolers, only one day per week will be spent in classrooms, which could be expanded to two days in February.

The plan comes with provisions to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the buildings, with metrics that will guide students and staff into in-person learning.

These guidelines stipulate that there be, using a seven-day rolling average, fewer than 28 new cases per week per 100,000 residents in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties, with a weighting of 80% for Hampshire County and 10% for both Franklin and Hampden counties.

In addition, the positive test rate in the three counties, using a 14-day rolling average and the same weighting, must be less than 2.5%, and the facilities must meet or exceed guidance set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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