With the first day of school during a pandemic ahead of them on Tuesday, Sept. 15, school officials recognized there is still “tremendous anxiety” among students, parents, administrators and staff about what it’s going to look like.
An average classroom will have between 11 and 15 desks with creative signs posted to “help kids along the way to acclimate them to what our new normal is right now,” said Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak to School Committee members during the Wednesday, Sept. 9 meeting.
“We set out to do something we thought was impossible, and we’re pretty damn close to being there,” Szymaniak said. “We have a good game plan. Principals and teachers are implementing that game plan.”
He said teachers were excited to be coming back to the classroom and hopes students share that excitement. Szymaniak also held a parent-school nurses Zoom call on Thursday, Sept. 10 to answer parents’ health-related questions. Class lists were released Sept. 9.
There will be 386 students on a fully remote learning plan and home-schooling requests went up to nearly 90 students from the 17 learning that way last school year.
Szymaniak said most of the home school requests came with the caveat that it was not a commentary on the school district, but a reflection of things going on at home with child care requirements and those parents can’t wait to send their children back to school the following year.
While transportation has been a challenge with only 23 students on a bus, Szymaniak said they were ready to go.
“We did the best we could with the challenges we had,” he said, noting there have been several cohort and resulting transportation changes to meet parent requests, but not all were possible because of social distancing requirements in classrooms and on buses.
WHEA President Kevin Kavka thanked the committee for approving the district’s memorandum of understanding with the teachers’ union regarding the hybrid learning plans to keep staff and students safe for the coming school year.
Parents can find more information on hybrid and remote instruction on the school district website or by calling school principals.
Szymaniak has asked for information from local boards of health if employers in either town see positive COVID cases among their employees in an effort to obtain guidance on what schools should do.
“I will over-step to make sure kids are safe rather than under-step,” Szymaniak said.
Based on a survey of 95 district teachers who live outside of Whitman and Hanson, he also asked the committee to open school buildings to the children of teachers who work in the district, hiring paraprofessionals to supervise them.
“I call it remote care, not actual instruction,” Szymaniak said, noting the paraprofessionals would have to be hired.
for public use.
“It would be nice to be able to do it,” said School Committee member Christopher Howard. “From what you’ve described, I certainly have some concerns that are not financial.”
Howard said having an extra child in a classroom, just looking at a computer screen all day — apart from what other pupils are doing — would be a distraction. Szymaniak explained the additional students would be located in the library and will continue to investigate the data and report back to the committee at its next meeting.
School Committee member echoed Howard concerns as well as what would be done with students in that population should they contract COVID-19.