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Mount Greylock Interim Superintendent Proposing Fully Remote Start to School Year
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:10PM / Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Mount Greylock Regional School District's interim superintendent Tuesday told the community he will propose the district start the year with fully remote learning for general education students.
In a virtual town hall, Robert Putnam previewed the proposal for the start of school that he will present to the School Committee for a vote on Thursday evening. Districts throughout the commonwealth must present their reopening plans, approved by school committees, to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by Friday.
Putnam emphasized throughout his presentation that all of his plans for the preK-12, three school district are still subject to negotiation with the district's teachers union. He mentioned "bargaining" at least four times in his half-hour presentation before addressing attendees' questions.
As he has throughout his six-week tenure as interim superintendent, Putnam said remote learning will be the cornerstone of the district's planning for the 2020-21 school year. And when classes resume in mid-September, Putnam expects remote learning to be the only mode of instruction.
"I have a tentative agreement to start remotely and then move to hybrid once details have been worked out," he said at the outset of his presentation. "We also have a tentative agreement to establish a metric with which we can make decisions [about bringing children back into schools]."
Putnam said that, depending in part on the levels of COVID-19 infection in the area, the district will, at some point, offer families the option of keeping their child or children home for remote learning or sending the children to school for part of the week in a hybrid model.
"Once fully implemented, families should plan to remain in that model for four weeks, but we will make available the possibility of switching between models every four weeks," he said.
Students on individualized education programs or Section 504 plans who require specialized instruction and related services would receive in-person learning under either the remote or hybrid model, he said.
Students studying remotely will receive "synchronous" instruction, meaning they would follow lessons virtually in real time with their classmates.
If a family chooses a hybrid model, its children would attend school half the time and be home the other half getting the same lessons at the same time.
"The important difference would be that [at some times] students would attend school in person and [at other times], they would attend remotely, unless their family has chosen the remote only option," Putnam said. "This particular model offers opportunities to keep classes together, albeit in an online method.
"Mrs. Andersen's third grade class would be Mrs. Andersen's third grade class. There would be remote students in it. There would be in-person students. And they would be connected because they would all be participating simultaneously, synchronously in the same lessons every day."
Putnam painted a bleak picture for children who attend school in person during the era of social distancing.
"Imagine, if you will, that you are a student," Putnam said. "You are riding into school on a bus where you're wearing a mask the entire time and you have separate seating; there is no more than one child to a bench that is typically found on a bus. Then, once you arrive at school, the staging for students is not something where you just walk in. We will keep everyone out in staged areas outside the school, at which time we're going to be checking for the [health] reports parents would have filed prior to students getting on the bus. Students would be staged in distant groups before entering the school.
"Then once students begin, they're walking 6 feet apart in a line, making sure that they're applying hand sanitizer prior to entering the building. Then, of course, once they're in the building staying in a classroom and not interacting with other classes. Having mask breaks. Sitting in rows facing forward. Not sharing any items. Not doing any group work that we would typically do.
"I'm trying to paint this picture to give you a sense of the challenges that in-person learning exerts on any planning."
At the middle/high school, students' weeks in the hybrid model would be divided by day of the week. Half would go to Mount Greylock on Monday and Tuesday; the other half would go to school Thursday and Friday. On the days they are not in the building, the students will participate in remote learning.
For elementary school pupils in the district, the hybrid model would divide classes into cohorts by time of day. On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, half the students would be in school in the morning and participating remotely in the afternoon; the other half would participate remotely in the morning and attend school in the afternoon. Both elementary school groups would work remotely on Wednesdays.
That morning/afternoon split for elementary schools raised a couple of questions from attendees at Tuesday's virtual town hall.
One person asked whether the AM/PM mode allows for the same deep cleaning of classrooms between cohorts that will occur at Mount Greylock, where the cohorts attend on a Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday schedule.
Putnam said that sanitizing the elementary schools between groups would be "somewhat problematic," but the reopening advisory group focused on facilities told him it could be done.
Putnam noted that the same cleaning issue would crop up for school buses, which would have to do a quick turnaround between dropping the morning pupils off at home and picking up the afternoon cohort to bring it to school.
That connected to another question raised in the town hall's chat: Whether the district had the capacity to do four bus runs each day at its two elementary schools.
"I spoke to our Dufour [Tours] person, and she said this is possible," Putnam said. "I like her. She's very frank. She said most anything is possible, but there are costs associated with all possible things."
Potentially, some of the "costs of the possible things" may arise as Putnam continues bargaining sessions that began last week with the district's unions.
Picking up on Putnam's repeated references to those negotiations, an attendee asked when the district's plan actually would be finalized.
"That's an excellent question," the interim superintendent said. "I can't give you a solid answer on that yet."
Classes in the district are scheduled to resume on Sept. 14.
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