Update: On Friday, Mount Greylock Interim Superintendent Robert Putnam announced the district is planning to have 10th through 12th graders in the building for instruction one day a week, on Wednesdays, to open the year.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Sophomores, juniors and seniors at Mount Greylock Regional School will begin the year with remote learning if the district moves forward with a plan favored by its interim superintendent.
On Wednesday evening, Robert Putnam explained to the School Committee why on Friday he will submit to state authorities plans that see children from pre-kindergarten through ninth grade start the school year with a hybrid instruction model while the three upper grades at the high school remain fully remote.
Putnam said it is a difficult decision with priorities for social and emotional wellness and academic integrity coming into conflict. But he is acting on the recommendation of the instructional working group that the district has looking at back-to-school plans this summer in formulating the response he plans to send to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"In Grades 10-12, necessary grouping in cohorts will substantially reduce the variety and diversity of schedules," Putnam wrote in a memo to the state that he read at Wednesday's committee meeting. "Students will not have access to the full program of studies, due to the tracking that will be required. … Scheduling would lean toward small, homogeneously grouped grade cohorts.
"For these reasons, there is currently a recommendation to provide a substantially remote learning program for grades 10-12 with the caveat that all students would have ample opportunity to go to school to receive help, and that high needs students would have regular in-person instruction."
Several members of the School Committee pressed Putnam on the plan for students in the upper grades, with one saying the district needs to have a good "explanation for the community."
Putnam said that while the school has the physical space to provide in-person instruction, state guidelines about keeping students in cohorts that do not change throughout the day would make it impossible for Mount Greylock students to have the class schedules that they normally would have.
"It's just the nature of Grades 10 to 12," Putnam said. "The way that's organized, in many cases, kids are intermixing in ways that are just not the same in the previous grades. In ninth grade, you can do cohorts. But 10 through 12, there are tremendous differences in the individual programs.
"If we bring kids to school, we will not be able to provide the variety and richness of opportunity. On the other hand, [if we don't bring them to school], we don't give them the opportunity for an in-person experience that the wellness [working group] says is vital. My general sense is, if it is the wish of the School Committee to maintain the breadth of the curriculum, the instructional committee believes it can only be offered remotely."
Mount Greylock Principal Jacob Schutz supported Putnam's decision.
At one point, School Committee member Steven Miller suggested that the school could bring sophomores, juniors and seniors to the Cold Spring Road campus to give them the sense of physical connection but allow them to participate remotely in different elective classes from within their physical cohort by using the same Chromebooks they would be using at home.
"I think … it increases the level of structure and placement and supervision that would need to happen as far as staffing goes," Schutz said. "So a staff member might teach a Zoom class while simultaneously monitoring a group of students taking four other classes? I don't think it's feasible."
The School Committee ultimately — without taking a formal vote — consented to Putnam submitting his plan, the first of a two-step reporting process to Boston this summer.
The committee did not formally approve a revised school calendar to reflect the state's decision to allow schools to hold off on the start of instruction until mid-September. Putnam informed the regional school district community about that potential change and other parts of his reopening plan on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he laid out for the School Committee the reasoning he will use in proposing to Boston a hybrid instruction model for students from PreK through freshman year in high school.
"A full-time in-person model is not an option for September 2020," Putnam wrote. "There are too many prerequisites that would need to be in place to ensure a safe reopening using this model. First, protocols for most all aspects of public schooling need to be revised and then systematically taught to students, staff and families until such time that all parties can consistently execute those protocols necessary for a safe reopening of the schools. Second, a full, in-person model of instruction would require hiring additional special education teachers in order to meet the needs of students within the confines of schedules as well as paraprofessionals for supervision. Third, bringing all students into the schools would make social distancing difficult, thereby limiting opportunities to train students in safety protocols."
Putnam said the district still is trying to figure out hybrid scheduling model that works best, noting that options include alternating cohorts by week, by time of day (morning and afternoon) and by days of the week. The latter would have the students in school buildings on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays, for example, with remote learning for each group on the days when they are not on campus.
He said the weekly rotation would be particularly difficult for younger children to transition back on Mondays after a week away from the building. The AM/PM rotation would give students a consistent schedule, but it would maximize the risk of COVID-19 transmission because of the difficulty cleaning school buildings between cohorts.
Putnam indicated that the district is leaning toward rotation by days for the start of the school year. And he said that an analysis of the district's vacation calendar shows that neither cohort would be disadvantaged under the plan; the district has five planned days off on Mondays and Tuesdays and five planned days that fall on Thursdays and Fridays.