Boards of health OK remote start after holiday break before hybrid return at Frontier, Union 38 schools

  • Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield will remain in remote learning through Jan. 8. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/1/2021 10:28:24 AM
Modified: 1/1/2021 10:28:12 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Three of the four local boards of health approved a motion this week for the Frontier and Union 38 regional school districts to remain in remote learning through Jan. 8.

As Conway’s Board of Health did not have a quorum, a separate meeting will be held to vote on the motion.

The vote followed a discussion by members of the Sunderland, Deerfield, Whately and Conway boards of health at a joint meeting Tuesday night. The discussion began with a recommendation from Deerfield Board of Health member Carolyn Shores Ness to resume remote learning on Jan. 4 and to resume hybrid learning on Jan. 7.

The idea, she explained, is that Jan. 4 would mark two weeks after Christmas.

“I would agree with that strategy,” said Sunderland Board of Health Chair Caitlyn Rock. “I’ve looked at the facts and figures for our area, and cases are down. I do expect a small surge — I’m hoping small — as people come back from their Christmas break.”

She added that the boards of health would know by the Sunday before then (Jan. 3) if the case numbers called for a change of decision, whether by an emergency board of health meeting or by Superintendent Darius Modestow in consultation with new health metrics and the boards of health.

Despite a consensus among health officials, Frontier School Committee members who were present at Tuesday’s meeting expressed some concern for returning to in-person learning in a hybrid model the week after the holiday break — noting, in particular, the concerns relayed to them by teachers.

“I don’t think they’re going to be happy with going back on the 7th or the 8th,” said Frontier School Committee Chairman Bob Halla, referencing emails he’d received from teachers in the district. “But again, it is two weeks after Christmas.”

Other school committee members said although they support getting students back into the schools, they are hesitant to rush that return.

Modestow noted that given committee members’ direction of conversation Tuesday night — and the preference for a later return to hybrid learning — a decision by the boards of health to reopen the buildings for limited in-person learning on Jan. 7 would trigger separate Frontier and Union 38 school committee meetings to vote on when students actually return to the buildings for the hybrid learning model.

This is because although the boards of health have the authority to keep buildings closed for public health reasons, it is within the school committees’ authority to decide in what learning model the students return.

“If we have to have the meetings that way, that’s fine too,” Modestow said.

He clarified for school committee members that a small group of high-priority students will continue to get the in-person instruction they require, just as they did before the holiday break.

Although Rock noted there is no public health reason to remain closed longer than Jan. 7, the boards of health ultimately acknowledged the comments made by school committee members and made a motion, instead, to resume remote learning on Jan. 4 and to reopen buildings to in-person learning in a hybrid model on Jan. 11.



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