CHESHIRE, Mass. — More students returned to school in the Hoosac Valley Regional School District this week as the district moved into Phase 3 of is reopening plan.
Superintendent Aaron Dean told the School Committee on Monday that Grades 1 through 4 and Grade 8 have returned to school in the hybrid model.
"It was really nice to have kids back in school," Dean said. "There was lots of excitement on day one … it's a nice feeling having them back"
He said the district set up the infrastructure needed to support remote and hybrid learning in Phases 1 and 2.
"I am thankful for the work that everybody has done because this has not been an easy situation," Dean said. "We have implemented some things pretty fast and furiously."
He said some students were invited back in these earlier phases.
Dean said he was impressed by how well students adhered to the new regulations. Students wore masks, maintained social distancing and washed their hands.
Phase 4 is scheduled to begin Monday, Oct. 26, when Grades 4 through 7 and Grades 9 through 12 will be welcomed back to classrooms.
Dean said he would like to explore maybe moving this date up if things continue to go well.
"I really want to take a closer look at this week and look at potentially moving that date back to Oct. 19," the superintendent said. "If things are going smoothly, if we can get students in earlier, that is better."
He also responded to a letter the district received from the state education commissioner expressing concern that the School Committee had decided to open the school year remotely with such low COVID-19 transmission rates in the area.
Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley on Sept. 22 told more than a dozen districts
, including Pittsfield Public Schools, Hoosac Valley Regional and the Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, that they have "very low COVID-19 transmission" and that he is "concerned" that their school committees have elected to keep most students remote to start the academic year.
Dean said he has been in contact with the commissioner and stated that the letter really reflected a misunderstanding.
"It seems as though we received that letter in error because there are several districts in the area that basically have the same plan as we do, and they did not receive a letter," he said.
North Adams, for example, also started the year fully remote and is in the process of transitioning to a hybrid model.
Dean said he sent a response to the commissioner and explained the district's phased in hybrid plan in greater detail.
After his discussions with the commissioner, Dean said he was under the impression that everything was copacetic.
"It seems like we are all set because we have more students in the buildings than a lot of other districts in the county," he said.
Dean ventured to guess that the commissioner was alerted after the district submitted some reporting. He said the reporting did not allow the district to explain the full hybrid plan, and that they only planned to start the year remotely.
"I think we are in good shape, and a lot of districts in the area have the same plan," Dean said. "We are all in this together ... we are all working with the same types of things."
Dean also touched on a press release released later that night that announced that the district had decided to suspend interscholastic athletic activities.
He explained how this decision came to pass and some safe activities put in place so students could stay engaged athletically with conditioning.
He said there will be further announcements later in the year in terms of winter sports.
"We are going to have a plan, we are going to discuss it and we will present it," Dean said. "... I feel that that it is important that people hear the messaging and understand the decision-making process."
Before closing, School Committee member Micheal Henault delivered the superintendent's evaluation and gave Dean high marks. The former Pittsfield elementary school principal was hired last August.
"Overall we are very impressed with the first year," Henault said. "You began by learning, engaging our stakeholders and developing a district plan. Your team has dealt with COVID-19 and established a reopening plan ... you have the ability to make difficult decisions without hesitation, and we hope that Aaron continues down this path."
Dean also reported that the school district received a $59,200 early grades literacy grant.