NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The switch to virtual learning means snow days may be a thing of the past for the North Adams Public Schools.
The arrival of snow over the Berkshires last weekend had the School Committee questioning how the school system would handle the coming winter. Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Roberts-Morandi said the schools would switch to remote learning.
"In the event of inclement weather that would force the closing of schools, we shift to a fully remote learning though, and students will have both their synchronous and asynchronous instruction following their usual schedule," she told the School Committee last week. "This has been agreed upon with the teachers union, and it came down through the commissioner's office earlier in October."
The schools have been using a hybrid education model because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Students have been split into cohorts and switching between attending in-person mornings and afternoons four days a week, with Wednesday remote for all to accommodate cleaning.
There have already been some power outages, which disrupt remote learning. If the outages are limited, the schools will have an idea what areas of the city have been affected.
"We will have students who, if schools is out of session, would not have access," Roberts-Morandi said, adding there will be some flexibility with assignments in those cases.
"When we learn of the possibility of a large storm, where we're aware of it the day before, lessons can always be restructured, and we can think about what it is we're going to be doing and students should have a heads up as to what it is," she said.
But she acknowledged there are students now with difficulty with online access and the school system is moving forward aggressively as it can to ensure access.
Should a teacher have a loss of power, their "asynchronous lesson" and materials would still be accessible on Canvas, the district's teaching software, so another teacher could take over if they can contact the school.
Roberts-Morandi said there have been discussions about how this would work and one teacher, whose internet is unstable, has decided to share their lessons with a teaching partner just in case.
She also reported that parents who opted for remote learning for their children this fall are now indicating interest in returning to school.
"We have had a number of requests for students who were in remote to go to the hybrid model," Roberts-Morandi. "[We are] seeing more now in the elementary level and explained during the initial registration process with families in early summer that movement from remote to hybrid can occur at the change of the marking period, assuming a space allows."
The schools have set up classrooms to ensure proper social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This means that there are limits to how many students and staff can be in one classroom.
Roberts-Morandi said the requests are being filled on a first come, first served basis depending on grade and space.
"We actually have requests going back to late August. So we'll continue to try to fill that out," she said. "We have had questions come up regarding the ability for students to flex to a different school. If there is no opening, we cannot do that, we have to remain in in our assigned buildings."
School officials hope to get additional students back in classrooms at the end of the marking period in November. Like the first period, students will be expected to stay with their choice — remote or hybrid — until the next marking period ends.
The school system currently has 1,291 students enrolled, down 74 from last year. Five more families have requested approval for homeschooling although they indicate their children will return to school next year if there is a vaccine or change for the better in COVID-19.
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