Op:Ed ~ A Message from Supt. Bradford L. Jackson, Ed.D. on Reopening Shawsheen Valley Technical High School

July 27, 2020

Submitted by Supt. Bradford L. Jackson, Ed.D.

I am writing to provide you with an update to our planning efforts for the reopening of Shawsheen this fall.  I have been directed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to hold off making any formal and final announcement of our plans for reopening until at least Monday, August 10th, but I thought it was important to provide you with some information that might help you as you plan for the return to school.

All school districts in Massachusetts have been instructed to prepare 3 plans for reopening:

  • Reopen with all students physically attending school while observing required social distancing (Full Open);
  • A hybrid model where some students physically attend school (observing required social distancing) and the remainder attend school remotely (Hybrid Open); and
  • A 100% remote learning model with stricter expectations for student performance, participation and graded work (Remote Open).

As an educator, I see the Remote Open as the least desirable option both from a curriculum/instruction and a social/emotional lens.  However, this decision must be, and will be, made based on student and staff safety, which has been informing all of the guidelines issued by DESE since mid-June.  The directive from DESE is clear: “our goal is the safe return of as many students as possible to in-person school settings, to maximize learning and address our students’ holistic needs.”  Accordingly, we are focusing our efforts on returning “as many students as possible to in-person school settings” and are viewing the 100% remote learning model as an option only if there are significant changes in the progress of the virus here in Massachusetts.

The Full Open option achieves that objective and we have focused much of our effort during the month of July on that option.  However, at this point in our analysis of the Full Open option, we have identified several key challenges to meeting the DESE physical distancing minimums for which we have not yet been able to identify solutions.  In addition, the recently announced DESE guidelines on physical distancing on school buses reduces the number of students who can safely ride a school bus by two/thirds (2/3).  While we have not abandoned our efforts to resolve these issues, at this moment, we do not yet have any working theories to resolve those issues, meaning Full Open is not a likely option unless and until the progress of the virus here in Massachusetts allows to DESE to change the physical distancing requirements.

Since mid-July, we have focused most of our efforts on the Hybrid Open, where students would be in school for a portion of the week and not be physically present in school for the other portion of the week, completing their work remotely.  We are still “pressure testing” this model and have developed a draft student schedule that is showing considerable promise.

While our plans are not yet finalized and the final decision has not been made, I encourage you to develop family plans to meet these expectations:

1) All students and staff who enter Shawsheen will be required to meet the following minimum requirements:

    • Masks/face coverings must be worn at all times, covering both the mouth and the nose.
    • Students and staff must adhere to physical distancing guidelines and aim for maintaining six feet of distance between individuals where feasible.  A minimum physical distance of three feet has been established by DESE when combined with the other measures outlined in this document.
    • Students and staff are required to exercise hand hygiene (handwashing or sanitizing) upon arrival to school and frequently during the course of the school day.
    • Finally, students and staff may not come into the building if you have been experiencing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19, tested positive for COVID-19, been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, have been instructed to quarantine due to suspected exposure to COVID-19, or have a fever above 100 degrees F.

2) All staff will be expected to report to Shawsheen each workday and conduct either in-person or remote learning from their classroom.

3) Parents and students should develop plans to address the possibility that students may be attending school remotely on some school days. On school days when students are not physically present at the school, students will be expected to be connected to their classroom teachers during the normal school-day hours, following their assigned schedules.  Students should have an internet-connected computer available for their exclusive use during normal school-day hours.  Families who are unable to provide that resource should email Shawsheen’s Director of Education Technology, Ms. Annamaria Schrimpf at [email protected] to arrange to borrow a computer to take home during their remote-learning days.

4) Students will have access to bus transportation on days when they are expected to be physically present in school, but we encourage families to utilize this service only if necessary as our capacity will be limited and we are working to avoid having to allocate unbudgeted financial resources to student transportation unless absolutely necessary.

5) While the first day for staff will likely remain unchanged, it is possible that the first day for students may be delayed by several days in order to provide our staff with adequate training and professional development to effectively implement the reopening plan selected. Family plans should be fluid to reflect that possibility.

Moving forward, I will be sharing the specific reopening plan with Shawsheen families and staff as soon after August 10th as DESE permits.  I know that the waiting and uncertainty are difficult but as we’ve all learned by now, we must be flexible as our plans must reflect the current status of the virus and infection rates.  That certainly doesn’t make the waiting easier, though, and I sincerely appreciate your patience.

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