A recap: Here’s how Pioneer Valley districts are reopening schools

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

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

Published: 8/14/2020 4:14:58 PM

After months of often contentious meetings over how students will be taught as they return to school amid the persistent COVID-19 pandemic, districts across Massachusetts had to submit their final plans to the state by Friday. Under the state’s guidance earlier this summer, districts were to have drawn up plans for three types of learning: all-remote, all in-person and a hybrid plan.

The following is how Pioneer Valley school districts have decided to proceed.

AMHERST-PELHAM

Only the youngest children in Amherst and Pelham elementary schools will be returning for in-class learning when the fall semester begins Sept. 16.

The Amherst, Amherst-Pelham Regional and Pelham school committees all voted unanimously in support of a plan that has preschoolers, kindergartners and first graders in Amherst, along with second graders in Pelham, immediately coming back to the school buildings.

The model adopted comes with a phasing schedule to have second and third graders in Amherst return to school in October and other primary grades, as well as middle and high schoolers, return in November. All but one day a week would be done remotely for the regional students, which also include those from Shutesbury and Leverett, through the end of 2020, with an additional day of in-person learning added in January.

The phasing plan is based on health metrics that are still being developed. Under those, the second phase wouldn’t be adopted until at least Indigenous People’s Day (Columbus Day) in October, and the third phase wouldn’t begin until at least Veterans Day in November.

Details of whether there would be additional opportunities for students at the schools are still being worked out. Amherst representative Kerry Spitzer said she hopes that the schools can still offer some face-to-face meetings in tents so other elementary school children can get to know their teachers when the semester begins.

BELCHERTOWN

Kids in pre-kindergarten through Grade 8 will be returning for in-class instruction on a staggered basis in September, but all high schoolers will be remote learning until at least the beginning of November.

The town’s school district’s fall start date is Sept. 10, and every student will be doing remote learning for the first two weeks of school.

After those two weeks, English language learners and high-special needs students will start a hybrid education. After two more weeks, kindergartners and students in Grades 1, 4 and 7 will start hybrid learning.

After two more weeks, pre-kindergarten, as well as Grades 2, 5 and 8, will begin hybrid learning. Two weeks after that, Grades 3 and 6 begin hybrid learning. High school will be completely remote until at least the end of the first quarter, which is Oct. 30.

For students in pre-kindergarten through Grade 8, hybrid learning will work on a staggered structure: Children will either be in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays, with remote learning the other three days of the week.

School Committee Chair Heidi Gutekenst said the board will monitor local COVID-19 case numbers and evaluate this school reopening plan at every meeting.

EASTHAMPTON

Easthampton Public Schools will begin the school year with remote-only learning, before phasing into a hybrid model.

The School Committee unanimously approve starting all students in remote learning from Sept. 14 to Oct. 9. Then, from Oct. 13 to Nov. 3, special populations of students would be in a hybrid model, followed by all students from Nov. 4 onward, although parents would retain the option of keeping their students in remote learning.

“Of course, these phases or these points in time are dependent on health metrics at the state and regional level,” Easthampton Superintendent Allison LeClair said. “We would mirror a phased-in approach as the governor has exemplified for the state. If at any time we need to stop a phase or roll back a phase, we can do that.”

After the hybrid model is opened to all students, schools would continue to monitor health outcomes in 30-day intervals.

GATEWAY REGIONAL

Students in the Gateway Regional School District will be returning to school under a phased-in hybrid model.

All students will start remotely on Sept. 15. On Sept. 22, high-needs students will begin attending school via a hybrid model, followed by preschool, kindergarten and first grade students on Oct. 1, second through eight grade on Oct. 15 and high school students on Oct. 29.

Under the hybrid model, students from Chester, Huntington and Middlefield will go to school Mondays and Tuesdays, while students from Blandford, Montgomery and Russell will go to school Thursdays and Fridays, with remote learning the remaining three days of the week for both groups. Preschool, kindergarten and first grade students, as well as high-needs students, however, will be in school four days a week for in-person learning, while doing remote work Wednesdays.

Parents may also choose to have their students educated entirely remotely.

Changes have also been made to where some students will physically go to school. Grades K–3 students from Blandford, Chester and Middlefield will attend Chester Elementary, Grades K–6 students from Huntington, Montgomery and Russell will attend Littleville Elementary and Grades 4–6 students from Blandford, Chester, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery and Russell will attend Littleville Elementary.

HADLEY

Hopkins Academy and Hadley Elementary School students will have entirely remote learning for the first six weeks of the school year, based on a decision the School Committee made in a 4-1 vote.

The decision allows for an extension of this remote learning if health metrics, which are still to be determined, pose a risk for any in-person instruction. When any in-person instruction happens, it is likely to be in a cohort model developed by Superintendent Anne McKenzie that limits interaction of students during the day to reduce the possible spread of infection.

The district has also ordered six tents and is preparing to do work in the buildings to make them safer, such as installing air purifiers, window fans and HVAC filters.

Only committee member Paul Phifer voted against the action, noting that with a 2% positivity rate of COVID-19 tests statewide, there might not be a better time than now to have some education in the school buildings.

Phifer also noted that surveys showed three-quarters or more of parents are comfortable having their children doing in-school learning.

Chairwoman Heather Klesch said the decision shows a commitment both to parents and educators, with many teachers saying they are not yet willing to return to the classrooms.

“We’re trying to serve everyone’s needs here,” Klesch said.

HAMPSHIRE REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL

Hampshire Regional High School is moving forward with a combined remote and hybrid plan, which would have seventh graders in hybrid learning and Grades 8 through 12 in remote learning to start the year.

A fully detailed plan for a return to school is set to be voted on at the School Committee’s Aug. 24 meeting.

Students are set to return to school on Sept. 16 with the combined model to run through Oct. 2. The school committee will reevaluate the plan during the week of Sept. 28.

Seventh graders will be divided into two groups based on their last names, with one group attending Hampshire Regional Monday and Tuesday and the other attending Thursday and Friday. The other three days will be spent in remote learning. In-person learning for the seventh graders will be done in half days.

High-needs students and those without internet access will also be able to do their work at the school.

HATFIELD

A hybrid approach to education that will offer some in-classroom instruction and some remote teaching will begin sometime this fall at Hatfield Elementary School and Smith Academy.

Under the plan, adopted by a 3-2 vote of the School Committee, Superintendent Martin McEvoy and administrators are developing a phasing plan that would allow elementary school students to rotate into the school building either by day or by week. The plan also allows for a quick pivot to all-remote learning should the COVID-19 pandemic get worse locally.

The reopening plan would start with specific grade levels or student populations for in-person instruction, prioritizing students and staff who are ready, and “build from there depending on safety levels and comfort levels of staff/students to the realities of in-person learning during COVID-19.”

At Smith Academy, seventh and eighth graders would come in for four days a week, ninth and 10th graders two days a week, and juniors and seniors would study entirely remotely during the fall semester.

HOLYOKE

Holyoke Public Schools will begin the school year remotely, with an option for select students who may have difficulties with exclusively remote learning to receive “small in-person learning.”

State-appointed receiver-superintendent Alberto VázquezMatos made the announcement in a letter to families Wednesday. His decision comes after the city’s School Committee, which has no formal power because the district is under state receivership, voted unanimously last week to support an all-remote start to the year. 

VázquezMatos, who had backed a hybrid program, said that after listening to feedback, he decided on the remote model. He said the district would formally release its plans Friday, though the Gazette was unable to obtain that information before press time.

“We will monitor health metrics throughout the year to help us make decisions about whether and when to bring more students back to school,” VázquezMatos said in his letter.

Those who will qualify for the option of in-person education include students with disabilities, English language learners, disengaged youth, and students in the career and vocational technical education program at Holyoke High School’s Dean Campus, VázquezMatos said.

NEW HINGHAM REGIONAL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Elementary school students in Chesterfield and Goshen will return to school under a fully remote model.

“This was not an easy recommendation or decision for the school committee or administration,” said Principal Jesse McMillan via Facebook. “However, it is based on what we believe to be the safest option for students and staff.”

Students will return to school on Sept. 16 and be fully remote through Oct. 15. The School Committee and administration will revaluate the model before Oct. 15.

NORTHAMPTON

Most students in Northampton Public Schools will be learning remotely until at least Nov. 4.

The School Committee voted 9-1 earlier this month to move forward with remote learning for most students. At-large member Roni Gold was the dissenting vote. Even though most who spoke at public comment during the meeting supported a remote plan, Gold said he heard from many people via email who wanted a hybrid plan. 

“At the end of the day, I think the School Committee looked at what was happening, not only in the area and statewide but across the country, and wanted to err on the side of caution,” Mayor David Narkewicz, who chairs the School Committee meeting, said last week.

Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School — which is its own separate school district — is planning to open this fall with a hybrid model. Only vocational classes will be in person for at least the first four weeks, with later phases adding in more students in academic courses. In the first phase, half the students will have in-person shop time for a week, and the other half the next week.

School officials will be checking the positive test rate in Hampshire and Berkshire counties, where Smith Voc draws its students from. If the rate goes above 5%, the school may go back to remote learning or go back a phase.

SOUTH HADLEY

South Hadley Public Schools will begin the year in an all-remote capacity and gradually phase into fully in-person learning in the spring if COVID-19 data trends in the right direction.

The School Committee last week voted unanimously to approve the plan, which involves five phases: a professional development period for staff beginning in late August; a fully remote start to classes on Sept. 14; a return to in-person learning for students with extra needs and all teachers on Nov. 4; a hybrid learning model beginning Jan. 4; and a return to full-time, in-person learning for all students on April 5.

The progression to hybrid and in-person learning may change depending on local COVID-19 trends, the school’s plan cautions, and families should prepare for the possibility of returning to fully remote learning if conditions are deemed unsafe for hybrid or fully in-person learning at any point.

Under the hybrid model, students will be divided into two cohorts, which rotate through in-person and remote learning on a one-week-on, one-week off basis. This plan will allow schools to provide 6 feet of distancing between students, rather than the minimum 3-feet requirement stipulated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in June. All students in preschool through 12th grade will also be required to wear cloth face coverings in school.

Students whose parents are essential workers without access to child care will be included under the category of students with extra needs and can return to the school buildings on Nov. 4. This category also includes students with individual education plans, students experiencing homelessness and English language learners.

WESTHAMPTON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Students will return to school on Sept. 16 under a hybrid model, which will be in place for at least four weeks.

The students will be divided up into two groups, with one group going to school Monday and Tuesday and the other going to school Thursday and Friday. In-person learning may be done as half days at the discretion of the principal. Parents may also opt to have their children educated remotely.

The model was adopted by the School Committee by a 4-1 vote. The committee also voted to set up a planning committee for the reopening, which will include representation from parents, teachers, the School Committee and the principal.

WILLIAM E. NORRIS SCHOOL

The William E. Norris School has adopted a hybrid model for its students returning in the fall.

Students attending the school will be divided into two groups, with half attending school in-person Monday and Tuesday and the other half attending school Thursday and Friday. Students will be educated remotely for the other three days of the week, although high-needs students will be educated at the school four days a week.

Parents may choose to have their students taught fully remotely instead of in the hybrid model.

WILLIAMSBURG: ANNE T. DUNPHY SCHOOL

Elementary school students in Williamsburg will return to school under a hybrid model.

Half of the students will attend school in-person Monday and Tuesday, while the other half will attend school Thursday and Friday. Students will do remote learning three days a week. Families will also be able to choose to educate their children fully remotely.

The model was adopted by the School Committee by a 4-1 vote.

“We have a facility that’s fairly new, and we have space to spread [out],” Principal Stacey Jenkins said. “We have a modern HVAC system with strong filtration already in it. They felt that was the right choice for our school. I supported that.”

After six weeks of instruction, the School Committee will reevaluate the model. The school will also move to fully remote learning immediately if the even-day moving average of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population in Hampshire County reaches 10 or higher.




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