This story edited on Friday morning to correct the headline.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Students in the Adams-Cheshire schools will begin a phased transition back into hybrid learning beginning Monday — as long as the downtrend in COVID-19 continues.
The vote by the Hoosac Valley Regional School Committee came after hearing from parents at a special meeting on Thursday about the difficulties their children and families were having because of fully remote learning.
"I'm dealing with a lot of different levels of emotion in my household ... I'm at my wit's end," said Elizabeth Greene, with four children in grades ranging from 1 to 12. "I think that maybe the school district isn't aware of things outside of education. ...
"We have a household with two working parents that are trying to keep our jobs, keep our kids educated."
About 60 people attended the virtual meeting to express upon the committee how isolation was affecting their children's mental and physical health. They talked about how difficult it was to motivate frustrated and disengaged students and the emotional toll it was taking on them as well as family relationships.
Parent Ryan Shea said he'd spoken with Superintendent Aaron Dean and the president of the teachers union, both of whom said they preferred in-person learning to remote. And if the School Committee was onboard, then they should change the memorandum of agreement with the teachers' union, he said.
"I'm going to ask everybody involved in the school system that if your priority is anything what I just listed is not getting our kids back in school, that you really evaluate what you're doing on our school system should be priority number," he said.
The school system reverted to remote on Jan. 11 as Adams slipped into the "red level" for COVID-19 cases with the anticipation of returning to school on Jan. 25. However, Adams has remained in the red with a 14-day average positive rate of 3.16 percent and 28 new cases over those 14 days. Cheshire has had fewer cases, 16, and is in the yellow though its positive test rate is 3.88 percent.
Parents and School Committee members both questioned whether a different metric could be used to determine if it was safe to be in school. Shea pointed out that the town's level code be red but people could still go out to eat and to stores and do other activities.
"I think majority of us that are here want what's best for our kids, and to follow up with what Ryan said, we have all seen changes in our children," said Holly Field of Adams. "I understand we're trying to keep everybody safe and do the right thing. ...
"The governor said it's time to get our kids back to school, it's the safest place for them to be."
School Committee member Bethany Demarco said the district is held to state guidelines.
"We have the same sentiment," she said. "We are just held so tightly by what we are actually allowed to do."
Dean said the latest decision to go remote was based on not just the metrics but an outbreak that had affected student attendance and the ability to staff.
"The spike we're just coming out of, it was pretty significant," he said. "It was a widespread outbreak."
The board voted for Dean to begin the transition plan back to hybrid learning but also authorized him to switch back to remote should the health data worsen and in consultation with public health officials.
Based on the Phase 2 plan at the start of the year, the superintendent recommended special populations such as kindergarten and special education would return to classrooms first with rest of the grades following. This would be done with the expectation that Adams would shift into yellow in the coming week.
The committee discussed the possibility of shifting to the county metric but members noted most of the schools were in remote now. Pittsfield on Wednesday voted to return to hybrid learning as of Feb. 8 and Mount Greylock Regional made the same decision as Hoosac Valley on Thursday.
School Committee member Nanette Reid, who initially attempted to abstain before voting yes on the return, said the committee should renegotiate the memorandum of agreement to reflect school numbers not town numbers.
"Let's take the lead on this and let's show our community and other communities that it can be done safely," she said.
The committee also voted to restart athletics as long as all protocols are followed. There was concern about equity in regard to clubs and other extracurricular activities but Dean said there were clubs and tutoring being done online and other activities would be difficult to host. Band, he noted, can't even play their instruments in the same room.
"I do think sports happens in a very controlled fashion," said Chairman Michael Mucci. "It's a tremendous amount of oversight and a smaller group of people. And it's much different than bringing back an entire school and everything."
Lastly, the committee voted to allow Dean to begin negotiations with the union to increase learning time, focusing on Wednesdays, with Adam Emerson abstaining.
"We have a plan for February to make some changes to the hybrid and the elementary level to get more structure," said Dean. "We're looking at ways to get kids in middle school and high school four days a week ...
"We're trying to do the best we can and I know it's not ideal ... we are constantly having discussions as a team and looking for ways to be better."
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Damage to Hoosac Valley Grounds Under Investigation
CHESHIRE, Mass.— Cheshire Police are seeking information on a vehicle that tore up some of the school's grounds just outside the track.
Police reported that a vehicle is suspected of "blowing donuts" in the parking lot. Damage extended into the grass and a fence was also knocked over.
Damage is estimated to be between $3,000 and $5,000, and it is believed the incident happened at midnight on Saturday, Sept. 2.
Police report that the school is in the process of looking over video footage but police would appreciate any information.
Police added that the vehicle likely is damaged from the incident.
Gianna Pesce scored five goals and assisted on two more Wednesday to lead the Mount Greylock girls lacrosse team to a 19-2 win over Pope Francis in the title game of the Western Massachusetts Class B tournament. click for more