Software showing how a classroom could be laid out with pandemic protocols.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials are presenting preliminary plans this week for the school year including how schools may reopen.
Parents will get the opportunity to see the draft plans during two online presentations being held on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Superintendent Barbara Malkas said parents have been invited to attend and, as of Wednesday evening, more than 150 had signed up.
Parents were also set to receive a more detailed survey this week from the North Adams Public Schools on how they wanted education to be delivered to their children this fall.
Schools shifted to remote learning in March as the novel coronavirus forced the closing of schools to contain the spread. Districts across the state are now making plans for how — or if — to open schools safely.
A preliminary survey with 463 responses had indicated parents were about split, with 47.5 percent of those responding selecting in-person classes with the use of face masks and just under a third leaning toward remote-learning through Canvas, the district's online learning platform.
The rest was a mix of preferences, with a sliver of hybrid, and ranging from no face masks to home schooling. Parents also said they were more likely to transport their own children but there was still a good number who would use the buses.
The new questions will be built on draft plans presented to the School Committee on Wednesday night for how the district would manage three options: full reopening, hybrid form of in-person and remote, and fully remote learning.
School Committee member Heather Boulger had questioned the results of the survey over concern that there were not enough choices given to parents and guardians, such as the lack of a hybrid form.
"I think the the survey that I saw was a five-question survey and I guess I think the results might be a little bit misleading," she said. "There was not a third option that said hybrid. The third option said, 'other.' So I think it was left to people to say I'm not comfortable sending my child 100 percent school so I have to choose the other option."
Malkas said it was a good point but that "we weren't asking parents to submit for a child, we asked them to submit on behalf of their family."
"This was just to give us some preliminary data to have a sense of what our capacities could be as we were doing our preliminary planning," she said. "But tomorrow there will be a new survey going out. Parents will need to submit on behalf of each of their children in their family."
School districts are required to submit plans for each of the three options to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by Aug. 10, but Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman of the committee, indicated the superintendent could request a short extension after committee members felt that they were unprepared Wednesday to take a vote on a preferred option.
"I think we owe it to our parents and our community to give them as much possible time as possible for planning purposes," said Boulger. "However, with that said, this is a huge document and I don't feel like we've gotten enough input from our community. With the two focus groups scheduled for Thursday and Friday this week, and the bargaining still underway, I don't think we're prepared to take a vote."
Her sentiment was seconded by committee member Ian Bergeron, who wanted to attend the presentations and see the survey results before making any decision.
"I think what we could do is let everything play out for Monday and then reconvene on Tuesday to do a final, final review and, if we feel that at that point it's appropriate to have a vote, we could do it at that time," the mayor said.
The options being presented include returning children to classrooms fitted out for social distancing; breakfast and lunch would be eaten in the elementary classrooms. The classrooms are being planned out using CannonDesign software that can create a grid for seating and occupancy based on a 6-foot optimal social distance and a 3-foot minimum.
Students would be in class for 4.5 days with half day on Friday to accommodate the teachers contract.
Everyone in the building would be required to wear masks; there woud be hand sanitation stations and sanitary protocols; shields and sneeze guards between students where needed; and handling of materials would be kept at a minimum.
"One of the ways that we can require students to wear a face mask and to really become comfortable wearing a face mask is to develop a mask culture," said Malkas.
The district is one of nine selected in the state to participate in an effort called the Parabola Projects
, a joint effort between the One8 Foundation and Ariadne Labs, to develop guides and toolkits to aid schools in opening safely. Among its resources is guidance on creating a mask culture.
In the hybrid form, the student body would be separated into A and B cohorts with each spending four half days in class, switching between morning and afternoon and doing remote on Wednesdays. This would allow for a deep cleaning with a fogger twice a week.
The schedule would be slightly different for each grades with high school having access to more remote learning and advanced classes.
The remote learning option for all would be a continuation of and expansion of the programming begun in March. The district also provides for families that want to remain remote.
Committee member Tara Jacobs said the reality of how schools work with COVID-19 could be "a shock to parents who are expecting their kids are going to be able to do things and go back to a much more normal looking school environment."
She wanted to be sure that parents understood what these options would mean.
"The three plans are considered preliminary plans. It represents our thinking to date," said Malkas. "And I think it's very important to Ms. Boulger's point earlier to refer to it as our intended plan not our final plan. ... A lot can happen in six weeks. ... I think that we have all learned in a pandemic is that we need to be adaptive, and we need to be flexible. We need to be responsive to whatever the public health data is telling us."
The number of positive cases is well below the 5 percent set by the state, she noted, "we should be considering some form of interesting learning."
At the same time, the district needs plans in place that will allow to shift rapidly to another of the models should the need arise.
"The really critical thing for everyone to understand is that this is being driven by, by data we saw a lot of that as a parametric data, public health is going to be the driver," said the mayor. "The commissioner [of education] made that point in the reopening plans. But I want to be clear that I won't compromise on that here because we haven't compromised on that in other places and this is critical one."
In other business,
• The committee voted on a school calendar with a start date of Sept. 15. The school year has been reduced by 10 days to 170 by the state Department of Education with the caveat the 10 days be used for teacher training. In North Adams, this will be done for the Canvas software, which will used no matter which option is chosen. The first three days would be half days.
• The remote meeting ran into issues with people not being able to log in. This was apparently caused by a security update instituted by Zoom requiring a password. The interest in the meeting was high and 63 people signing on. Committee members suggested the recorded meeting be posted on the school district website.