Amherst postpones in-person learning for all students as COVID-19 cases rise

  • Amherst School Superintendent Michael Morris GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/2/2020 2:28:30 PM
Modified: 10/2/2020 2:28:18 PM

AMHERST — Each phase of the scheduled reopening of Amherst and Pelham elementary schools and Amherst-Pelham regional schools for in-person learning will be delayed two weeks due to a growing number of COVID-19 cases in Amherst.

Superintendent Michael Morris wrote a letter to the community Thursday night about the need to push back the three phases by at least 14 days after he was notified by the town’s Health Department that Amherst’s active cases of the novel coronavirus had risen to 51.

“The updated daily count exceeds the districts’ metrics from the tentative agreement with the Amherst-Pelham Education Association for returning to in-person learning,” Morris wrote.

That preliminary agreement, which could be ratified by the union and the school committees Tuesday, calls for in-person learning only when there are fewer than 28 new cases per week per 100,000 residents, using a seven-day rolling average, in Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden counties. That rolling average, based on the union’s calculation, now stands at 37 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Amherst’s active positive COVID-19 cases had jumped even more, to 72, as of Friday morning, according to the town’s dashboard. The dashboard compiles information about laboratory-confirmed cases from the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network, or MAVEN.

At the University of Massachusetts, 36 new COVID-19 cases were reported Monday and Tuesday, the most recent dates for which data is available. The university reported Wednesday that 33 cases are connected to a cluster of off-campus students who gathered together last week.

For parents who have advocated for in-person learning as soon as possible, the concern related to the tentative agreement is that the metrics advocated by teachers are too low.

In an email to the Gazette, Stephanie Hockman of Pelham wrote that she is not surprised by the delay and that parents and students should have a say in the negotiations over the terms of returning to school.

“Given the onerous metric requirements in the tentative agreement, I felt that the APEA was negotiating to never have to return to the classroom; definitely not for the middle or high schools,” Hockman wrote.

Another parent with a kindergarten-age child sent an email to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy expressing anger in the rise in COVID-19 cases and the responsibility UMass needs to take.

“My boy was so looking forward to his finally first day of in-person learning only to have it stripped away at the last minute because of the inevitable disregard and selfishness of UMass students,” Chris Killion wrote.

The anticipated Oct. 1 “Phase 1” reopening that would have brought back preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders for class from 9:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. daily, and special populations at all grade levels, was reset to Oct. 15 on Thursday.

The “Phase 2” reopening for second and third graders, for class daily from 9:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., is pushed back from after Indigenous Peoples Day to Nov. 2, and the “Phase 3” reopening, which included the remaining elementary students, fourth through sixth graders – either two or five days per week from 9:50 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., depending on transportation and classroom space – and middle and high schoolers one day a week from 9 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., is delayed from after Veterans Day to Nov. 30.

“As our community deals with the current uptick in COVID-19 cases, we will keep you informed of any impacts on the Amherst Regional Public Schools,” Morris wrote.

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


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