It’s unlikely Andover High School students will return to full in-person learning this year.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Trach told the School Committee Thursday that district officials were preparing a waiver to ask the state if high school students will be mandated to go back before the end of the year.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has mandated elementary students return five days a week starting Monday, April 5 and middle school students return Wednesday, April 28. Andover officials are on target to meet those deadlines, Superintendent Claudia Bach said. 

The largest issue with returning all Andover students to classrooms full-time comes from the already overcrowded high school. The school was built in the 1960s with the intended maximum capacity of 1,500 students. However, there are about 1,800 students currently enrolled.

That problem is exacerbated by social distancing requirements imposed because of the pandemic. The majority of classrooms that would typically hold about 25 students can only fit 15 desks at the required distance, Trach said, leaving multiple classrooms with a potential overflow of students. 

“Where does that overflow of sections go when you don’t have any more space or any more teachers to teach additional sections?” Trach said. “The issue is compounded with the six-foot (spacing) requirement for meals.”

The school has already transformed the Dunn Gym into a cafeteria, “and that’s just to accommodate the hybrid,” model she said. “To accommodate the full population... we look at scenarios that are more extreme taking over the Collins (Center for Performing Arts) and the Field House.”

State officials are bringing in a team to meet with district officials to discuss how to better accommodate more students, Trach said. However, it seems unlikely they would be able to accommodate all of the students without the hybrid model, so they are working on the state waiver.

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