METHUEN — School Superintendent Brandi Kwong recommends a phased approach to reopening schools in the era of COVID-19, starting with online learning for most students in September with additional steps taken later in the fall, contingent upon health data.
She takes her plan on how to reopen schools to Thursday night's School Committee meeting, where members are scheduled to vote on the proposal.
"Creating this plan has been an incredibly challenging task," Kwong said in a letter to the community that was attached to the plan, titled "Reopening the Ranger Way."
She noted that "the teamwork and community feedback was critical in its development. Safety has been and will continue to be at the forefront of our planning. We are doing our best to balance the safety and needs of students, staff, and families through this process."
The reopening plan is based on guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, issued in late June.
On page 14 of the plan, Kwong and the plan's authors state clearly that having students return to school in the fall is out of the question.
"In light of the challenges related to student and staff safety and finances, and in the interest of the wellbeing of students, an immediate full return to in-person learning is not feasible," the plan states. "Instead, should the school committee opt for a return to in-person learning, the MPS Leadership Team is recommending a phased-in hybrid model."
Initially, starting Sept. 14, students with severe learning disabilities or other conditions that require in-person education will be allowed back into the schools, according to the plan.
From Sept. 16 to Sept. 28, all other students will be taught using "remote learning."
On Sept. 28, phase 2 of the plan begins, allowing students in K-4 and those in grade 9 to start a hybrid schedule — part-time remote learning and part-time in-school learning.
"These students will have time to acclimate to new buildings and new routines, while all other students continue to engage in remote learning," according to the plan.
For the grammar schools, students in each grade in each school will broken into two groups, or "cohorts" as the plan calls them. The cohorts will then attend school on a 2:3 schedule, meaning Cohort A would attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and do remote learning on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
The group in Cohort B, meanwhile, would do remote learning on Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesdays, and attend school in person on Thursdays and Fridays.
The schedule was developed to "ensure that school buildings never approach full capacity." In addition, it leaves Wednesdays with no students in the buildings so that the schools get a "deep cleaning" between in-person classes.
The plan also calls for a consistent schedule in the lower grades.
For the high school, the plan is a little different due to the "complexities resulting from the breadth of course offerings."
According to the plan: "In Week 1, students in cohort A will attend school in-person on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and engage in remote learning on Thursdays, and Fridays.
"Students in cohort B will engage in remote learning on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and attend school in person on Thursdays and Fridays."
In Week 2, however, "students in cohort A will attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays and engage in remote learning on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays while students in cohort B will engage in remote learning on Mondays and Tuesdays and attend school in person on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
Students in all remaining grades will then begin on a hybrid schedule in mid-October, according to the plan. Finally, the district will "re-evaluate the plan in mid-November" to determine if a return to in-person schooling is a valid option for all students.
"In a year full of uncertainties, Phase 4 is that scheduled moment in time to reflect on how things are going and chart our next course," the plan says. "Students and staff will have been implementing the hybrid schedule for four weeks, some students six weeks. We will consult students, families, and staff. We will evaluate public health conditions, academic indicators, and promising practices from other school districts. Using all of this information, we will determine whether to continue with the hybrid schedule and for how long or consider an alternative, including a full return to in-person learning."
Other details of the plan include:
— An option for families to choose full-time remote learning for the entire year as part of the Remote Academy.
"Families that choose the Remote Academy will remain in the program for the full 2020-21 school year for the sake of instructional continuity and minimizing disruptions for all students. MPS will revisit this policy if public health conditions change such that a return to full in-person learning becomes feasible," according to the plan.
— There will be plenty of opportunities for hand-washing and disinfecting.
"In all of the schedules, there will be time built in for multiple scheduled mask and hand washing breaks. ... Hand sanitizer dispensers will be in all classrooms and in common areas throughout buildings. In the grammar schools, most pre-kindergarten through grade 4 classrooms have sinks, soap dispensers, and paper towels. We expect to create handwashing stations in hallways and other locations where needed, especially in upper schools and at the high school."
For a complete copy of the plan, go to the Methuen Public Schools home page at: methuen.k12.ma.us/Home. Once there, click on the link just below the colorful "UPDATE" logo that says "CLICK HERE." The reopening plan can be found on the next page that pops up in both English and Spanish.