CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The four schools in the Northern Berkshire School Union are moving forward with in-person learning — or as least as much as possible.
The small schools of Gabriel Abbott Memorial in Florida, Emma Miller in Savoy and Rowe Elementary will open with students back in the classroom on Sept. 8; Clarksburg Elementary will begin the school year on Sept. 14 with a hybrid model.
Superintendent John Franzoni said the votes taken by each school committee were unanimous in support of their plans.
The size of the smaller schools made officials confident they could safely bring children and teachers back into the school buildings. Savoy has about 58 children in Grades K-5, Florida less than 100 in K-8, and Rowe about 60 in preK-6.
"Locally, we have very low transmission rates right now, especially in our small communities," said Franzoni. "That's why we've opened Florida, Rowe and Savoy because we can use outdoor learning spaces there, we can spread the kids out and we can certainly, with a small enrollment at those schools, reopen safely."
The number of cases for COVID-19 remain low in Berkshire County, with about 630 positive cases identified since March. The state's recent mapping on cases per 100,000 puts the county at the lowest transmission rates. Savoy and Florida have had fewer than five cases and Rowe none.
Clarksburg has been more difficult because of its enrollment — around 180 — and issues with the aged building. An assessment of the structure found problems with the ventilation in the primary wing in that there is no ventilation.
Franzoni said this was not an issue if there was just a teacher but children couldn't be in the classrooms without air exchangers.
"Clarksburg, because it's a little bit larger, the plan is that we have to go with hybrid for a little bit until we have the building issues under control and then go from there," he said.
The school has ordered portable HEPA, or High Efficiency Particulate Air, filters at $6,000 a pop but they won't be delivered for four to six weeks.
Because those rooms cannot be used, only kindergarten through Grade 5 will return to classrooms and Grades 6-8 will be full remote for the first three weeks of school.
"This is a three-week plan, we're going to re-evaluate at the end of September to see if we received those units in for the primary wing and everything tests out," Franzoni said. "Then we'll move to a next phase ... probably a little bit of an extended hybrid getting [Grades] 6, 7 and 8 into the building."
Any further changes will be dictated by public health data. Clarksburg recorded the first case of COVID-19 in Berkshire County back in March but has since had only eight cases total and no positives in the last two weeks, according to the Department of Public Health.
There had been discussion of having Grades 3-5 and 6-8 taking turns being in the building but that was deemed too difficult, in part because it would also mean switching out the appropriate furniture.
"We also just felt like, want to get those youngest kids in the building first," he said. "It was only a three-week plan, so we felt like we get off to a good start by focusing Monday through Thursday, on the kids in Grades K through 5 for the in-person learning."
An area will be put aside in the cafeteria with technology for high-needs students who may need more help.
The schedule prepared by Principal Tara Barnes would have the students on a Monday through Thursday schedule the first three weeks with Friday as a professional development for teachers to evaluate progress and develop next steps.
All schools were required to submit plans for in-person, remote and a hybrid of both with the expectation they will be shifting models depending on the spread of the coronavirus.
In his letter to the school union community, Franzoni wrote that "We have reviewed numerous guidance documents from the state of Massachusetts outlining new safety guidelines that will be implemented with fidelity at each of our schools to help keep all students and staff healthy."
This will include masking, social distancing within the classrooms and buses, and limiting access to the schools to students and staff. Parents are being asked to keep children home if they have flu symptoms or don't feel well.
"We're really excited to open our schools. We think we can do it with our numbers ... it really plays into our strengths of being able to open our schools in person," Franzoni said. "So we're excited to open those schools on Sept. 8 for Rowe, Savoy and Florida and Sept. 14 for Clarksburg."
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Clarksburg Moving to Next Phase in School Reopening
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
The new entry has a window and speaker to the main office.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Clarksburg School is moving to the next phase in reopening next week with the return of the middle school grades.
The school opened on Sept. 14 with Grades kindergarten through 5 gradually transitioning into half-days in school and half-days remote and Grades 6 through 8 completely remote. Classes were held Monday through Thursday with Friday as professional development and evaluation. The intent had been to operate in this configuration and then reassess at the end of September with an eye to the local health data related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"It's going really well, Fridays we're debriefing with all the staff, about what's working, what's not," Principal Tara Barnes told the School Committee at a special meeting on Thursday. "We're making adjustments to procedures of how we do things, if we see the need coming up. So that's been really useful time that we put into the schedule."
It's going well enough that the School Committee voted to take the next step of expanding the amount of time in the building.
Beginning Monday, Oct. 5, Grades 1 through 5 will attend in person all day, Monday through Friday. Kindergarten and Grades 6 to 8 will go half-days in school and half-days remote, also Monday through Friday, with two cohorts switching between mornings and afternoons.
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The board held a joint meeting with the Board of Health to determine if it was time to begin easing restrictions on the use of municipal buildings, especially since the Clarksburg School has opened for hybrid learning.
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The debate over the definition of the structures — and whether there was a permit issued for their construction — lead to heated exchanges between town officials and the owner at last week's Planning Board meeting.
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On Friday morning, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association released the sport-specific modifications that on Thursday unanimously were approved by the association’s COVID-19 Task Force. click for more
Only about 14 voters attended the special town meeting on the lawn of the Senior Center that also gave the Select Board the ability to start new employees at wage steps commensurate with their experience and education and approved the first step in making the town clerk and appointed position.
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The small schools of Gabriel Abbott Memorial in Florida, Emma Miller in Savoy and Rowe Elementary will open students back in the classroom on Sept. 8; Clarksburg Elementary will begin the school year on Sept. 14 with a hybrid model.
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