Easthampton school officials turn to remote learning for students 

  • Students arrive at Easthampton High School in late October 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2020 1:43:26 PM

EASTHAMPTON – As COVID-19 cases rise in the city, a divided School Committee voted 4-3 Tuesday night to send students who had been in hybrid learning models back to full remote learning.

“This is not an easy decision,” said School Committee Chairwoman Cynthia Kwiecinski, who supported the move. “I don’t like going backwards.”

The vote means that students participating in hybrid learning at Easthampton High School will return to full-remote learning after Friday.

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle was among the four members of the School Committee who voted for a return to remote learning.

“There is something larger than education right now and that’s simply lives,” the mayor said in an interview.

Marissa Carrere, meanwhile, was one of the School Committee members who voted against sending the students back into remote learning. At the meeting, she noted that people are eating at restaurants and shopping for leisure.

“Almost all of society is open, and yet we can’t provide this one essential public service to the kids who need it most,” said Carrere. “I just feel that kids have been asked to sacrifice so much.”

The committee also voted unanimously to not allow first grade students to begin hybrid learning this week. Both votes were taken at the recommendation of Superintendent Allison LeClair.

“I made both of those recommendations reluctantly,” LeClair said Wednesday. “I did not make them lightly.”

LeClair said her recommendations were based on guidance from the Board of Health and from an epidemiologist working with the school district.

English language learners, pre-K and kindergarten students, and special needs students are the populations being educated under hybrid models at the high school currently, although fully remote learning is available to all of these groups as well.

No plan has been decided yet for the students doing remote learning from the high school.

LeClair said the community case count threshold, which takes into account cases in Easthampton and the area, that would call for a return to remote learning has not yet been reached. However, she said she believes this threshold, tentatively agreed upon with the Easthampton Education Association, will be reached this week.

Nellie Taylor is the president of the EEA, the union that represents staff in the school district.

“We absolutely agree that this is the right choice to make,” Taylor said.

She said the union is concerned with the safety of students, their families, and staff, while at the same time acknowledging the difficulty that sending students back to remote learning presents for families, as well as its disruptive effect on students. Taylor also said the union is happy that the School Committee is showing flexibility.

LeClair said both School Committee decisions will be considered again at the committee’s Dec. 8 meeting. And she said that this is a “warning for the community” to get the infection rate under control if the community wants students to return to school.

Bri Eichstaedt, the city’s health agent, said that from Nov. 1-14, 40 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Easthampton and that from Oct. 18-31, the number of new confirmed cases was 19.

“We’re definitely increasing,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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