School reopenings

New guidelines for school reopenings

MIDDLESEX - With even veteran central office administrators appearing dazed by an ever-changing influx of state guidelines and mandates, it’s little wonder that some residents are confused about what the start of the 2020-2021 school year will look like in area communities.

In just the past two weeks, after most cities and towns in the region had already finalized major decisions about school reopening plans, area superintendents have received new state guidance on a plethora of topics that include revised student vaccination requirements, modified COVID-19 isolation, quarantine and testing protocols, criteria for resuming high school athletics, and new metrics for switching between hybrid and full-remote (or at home) learning models.

Given the dizzying pace with which reopening rules and protocols are changing, some districts may very well have some pivotal decisions ahead of them regarding next month’s fast-approaching start of the school year.

But with most area school districts agreeing to begin the 2020-2021 year in a hybrid model, where pupils will return on a part-time basis to their respective schools, here’s a look at the varied approach to reopening plans approved thus far:

Burlington

In one of the most unique arrangements in the entire region, Burlington will begin school earlier than virtually all of its neighbors on Sept. 10 under a phased-in hybrid model.

On Aug. 10, Burlington’s School Committee in a 4-to-1 vote agreed to adopt a hybrid model with a several unique twists that includes a full five-day return to the classroom for elementary school pupils.

Under the proposal, elementary school pupils would split their daily routines by reporting to their classrooms in the morning and then partaking in a remote learning session in the afternoon.

On the middle school level, the student body will be divided into two cohorts, with pupils in each group spending two days per week in the classroom. Like the elementary school levels, pupils will depart their buildings at lunch time and return home for afternoon remote learning sessions.

All middle schoolers will partake in remote programs on Wednesday mornings, while a full-day of at-home learning on Thursdays and Fridays.

Burlington’s high schoolers will adhere to the same classroom/remote learning schedule as middle schoolers, but the older teens will remain within the building for lunch each day before heading home.

With teachers set to return to work this week, pupils in grades 1 through 5, 6, and 9 will begin in-person classroom sessions on Sept. 10, while all other pupils begin school in a remote or at-home learning setting.

All other pupils would then return to the classroom on Monday, Sept. 14.

Reading

In another unique twist to the school reopening saga, Reading’s School Committee originally voted unanimously earlier this month to implement a phased-in hybrid learning program that would see pupils returning to the classroom on Sept. 16.

However, in a unexpected announcement late last week, when the local education board had planned on finalizing the finer details of that plan, Schools’ Superintendent Dr. John Doherty announced the district would instead begin the 2020-2021 year in a full remote-learning setting.

The local School Committee, which delegated to the superintendent its authority to transition between proposed hybrid and remote learning plans, has not had a chance to discuss the last-minute change at length. However, Doherty late last week explained his abrupt departure from the agreed upon hybrid plan was due to issues in finalizing modified contracts with the local teachers’ union and related issues in determining the exact number of educators returning to work in the next few weeks.

Under the hybrid plan originally pitched to Reading’s School Committee in late July, the student body would be divided into two subgroups which would alternate between remote and in-person learning sessions on a weekly basis.

All pupils would then partake in a half-day remote learning on Fridays, which would allow custodial staff extra time to disinfect all educational facilities. The following week, the second cohort would be in school, while the first-half of students engage in remote learning.

Doherty also proposed an extremely cautious approach to reintroducing students to their buildings in that the transition would occur over a near month-long timeframe.

Under the timeline, all pre-K, high needs, and grade six pupils in Cohort A would return to school on Sept. 15. Starting on Sept. 22, the second half of sixth graders and pupils assigned to K-2,

Cohort A would start in-person learning.

For the week that begins on Sept. 29, children in grades 3 through 5 cohort A and grade 7-through 8 cohort B would resume in-class instruction. On Oct. 5, the first batch of high school pupils in grades 9 and 10 will return to classes. The last group to head back to their classrooms will be those in grades 11 and 12, who will head to RMHS beginning on Oct. 12.

Reading’s educators are reportedly scheduled to return to work on Aug. 31.

Presumably, Reading will eventually shift into its pre-planned phased-in hybrid model after beginning classes under full remote learning setting. However, details about the changes have not yet been announced.

Stoneham

In yet another hybrid model format, Stoneham’s School Committee in early August voted 4-to-1 in favor of allowing pupils to return to the classroom two-days per week.

Those in grades 1 through 8 will report to school buildings for two consecutive days each week and learn remotely for the rest.  Pupils in cohort A would attend classes in person on Monday and Tuesday, when the second half of pupils will receive instruction through remote learning options.  On Wednesday and Thursday, both cohorts would flip settings, with group B attending in-person classes and the other half of pupils partaking in distance learning.  

All students would have a partial day of remote instruction on Friday, when custodial staff would take advantage of empty buildings by sanitizing every single classroom and learning space for the following week.  

Stoneham High School officials have obtained permission to approach the hybrid model under a completely different routine by asking pupils to report to their classrooms every other day. Meanwhile, Stoneham’s kindergarteners will attend classes every day, as will the districts high-needs pupils.

The School Committee has voted to begin the hybrid plan on Sept. 16.  

Tewksbury

In a 3-to-2 vote in early August, Tewksbury’s School Committee voted to adopt a hybrid plan in which students in two cohort groups would report to classrooms twice a week beginning on Sept. 16.

Under the current version of the district’s hybrid plan, pupils would be follow a 2-1-2 model in which Cohort A attends in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday, when Cohort B will learn remotely. All pupils would then partake in at-home learning sessions on Wednesdays while custodial staff sanitize school facilities.

Cohort B would then step forward on Thursday and Friday for in-person lessons. Tewksbury’s model also calls for rotating the cohort assignments on a two-week cycle. Under the arrangement, Cohort B— after attending classes on Thursday and Friday the week prior, would return to their respective schools the following Monday and Tuesday, while Cohort A learns remotely.

Tewksbury officials have committed to returning high needs pupils to the classroom, but has not specified whether the population will do so more frequently than regular education students.

Winchester

Winchester students will begin the school year by returning to classrooms on two-consecutive days each week under the same “2-1-2” hybrid model as Tewksbury.

Wilmington

Wilmington presently plans to start school under a phased-in hybrid model, where pupils would be slowly reintroduced to their classrooms over a two-week time frame that begins on Sept. 16.

Under the town’s version of the hybrid model, the student body will be divided into two cohorts which will see pupils attending in-person classes every other day.

Cohort A will attend in-school sessions on Mondays and Thursdays, while Cohort B learns from home through remote learning program offerings. On Tuesdays and Fridays, Cohort B will attend in-person classes while Cohort A learns from home.

All pupils in Cohorts A and B will learn from home for a half-day of remote learning sessions on Wednesdays.

Special education and other high needs pupils will attend in-building classes under the hybrid model for at least four-days a week, though some students will report to school facilities all five days.

As is the case for most of its neighbors, Wilmington’s School Committee has not yet taken a final vote on setting the school calendar for the 2020-2021 year.

However, the current version of the town’s school reopening plan calls for a phased resumption of classes. Under the plan, all students would start the school year on Wednesday, Sept. 16 in a remote setting.

On Thursday and Friday — Sept. 16 and Sept. 17 — pupils in grades 1, 4, 6, and 9 would return to classrooms for the first time since last March. The following week, which begins on Sept. 21, pupils in grades 2, 5, 7, and 10 would return to classrooms on Monday and Tuesday. Then on Thursday and Friday, students in grades 3, 8, 11, and 12 would resume in-classroom learning.

All students would then revert to the full-time hybrid model beginning on the week of Sept. 28.

Wilmington’s School Committee, which has only partially approved the district’s proposed reopening plan, has also not yet approved the final school calendar. A tentative final vote on the plan and the school calendar is scheduled to take that final vote during a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Woburn

Woburn’s School Committee earlier this month voted to adopt a “2-1-2” that functions much likeTewksbury’s proposal.

Specifically, the student body will be divided in-half with Cohort A attending classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and Cohort B reporting to their respective schools on Thursday and Friday. The entire student body would have a half-day of remote learning on Wednesdays, when custodial crews will be cleaning buildings.

High needs populations will also follow a different routine in being allowed to return to the classroom four-days per week.

The city’s 2-1-2 plan is unique in that all students will only partake in a half-day of classroom instruction during the two days they report to school. Specifically, in-person sessions will be held until lunch time, when pupils will return home and finish out each day with remote learning sessions.

Woburn, which has not yet ended the tradition of starting school for teachers and students after Labor Day, will also have one of the latest starts to the 2020-2021 year with the first day of classes set for Sept. 21. Teachers won’t report to work until Sept. 8, the day after the national holiday.

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