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Amherst regional chief: ‘Increasingly unlikely’ schools reopen

  • Amherst Regional High School.

Staff Writer
Published: 4/8/2020 8:38:28 PM
Modified: 4/8/2020 8:38:17 PM

AMHERST — Public schools in Amherst are “increasingly unlikely” to reopen for the 2019-2020 school year, Superintendent Michael Morris wrote in a memo to families Wednesday.

Morris, in the communication, notes that school buildings will remain closed “until I receive adequate guidance from state and local health officials that makes me confident that it is safe for students and staff to return to school.”

“I am not putting a specific date on the potential return, but it is clear that it will not be May 4,” Morris wrote.

All schools in Massachusetts are closed to in-classroom instruction through at least May 4 under a state of emergency declared by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Members of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee advised Morris on Tuesday that they were comfortable with making a strong statement that reopening schools after May 4 was too optimistic, based on the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.

Morris told members that the peak of cases in the region, based on both mathematical models by epidemiologists and comments from representatives from Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, would likely come two to three weeks after Boston’s peak.

Amherst school committee representative Kerry Spitzer said people should understand that the focus of media coverage has been on COVID-19 cases in New York City and Boston, and agreed that she expects the rural region would have cases rise at a later date.

Based on feedback from staff, Morris is also adjusting the normal April vacation so that only April 20, 21 and 22 will be considered days off, while April 23 and 24 will be regular “distance learning” days. This will allow the final date for schools this spring to be June 18.

Meanwhile, with about 100 families lacking Wi-Fi access, described as a “digital divide,” the district is lending mobile Wi-Fi hotspots with monthly data plans to families unable to pay for them. The Parent Guardian Organization for the public schools is in the midst of a $25,000 GoFundMe fundraiser to cover these costs.

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


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