HANOVER — South Shore Tech remains closed to staff over the summer due to coronavirus concerns, but plans are underway to determine how school will re-open in the fall — and exactly when.
Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey said Monday the school is still awaiting more guidance from the state.
“There are so many scenarios that we need to try to prepare for to build confidence with both staff for their safety, and families for student safety, before we open in September,” Hickey said, acknowledging that nobody wants kids to be home longer than necessary. “Student and staff safety comes first and we’re going to listen to medical experts at the state level, because if families and staff don’t feel confident in the plan, then we’re not creating the best educational environment for kids.”
Districts have until the end of July to submit a plan, but the main goal is to fit as many students back in the building as can safely be permitted. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, according to Hickey. Plans would not likely be announced until early August. Right now, the SST school year is slated to begin Sept. 1.
He expressed support for how the state is handling the pandemic, through its emphasis on following the data, which he said is a key to any decisions made.
“The math is telling me right now that we cannot bring everybody back,” he said. “We are definitely going to prioritize vocational time.”
Hickey said methodical protocols are being followed to determine how to best make use of cooperative work placements.
“If we’ve got a returning senior who happened to be out on coop as a junior, and they’re in the same job, that might be a bit easier, but we’re going to have to do new safety visits and make sure the employer is adhering to [COVID safety] protocols,” Hickey stressed. “But we also know, for the rising senior who wasn’t out on coop, we may want to spend more time with those kids — given that they’ve lost three months of hands-on learning.”
In the long run, however, if a student is looking for a coop and there is a business ready to partner with them, the school would support that.
Incoming freshmen are another priority, with the goal to have that class in the building all the time, if possible. Students with disabilities are another priority.
“You cannot use remote learning to accommodate all students and their needs,” Hickey said. “We may [also] have students who, even though they are learning remotely, they might be better suited to be in the school building just to provide them some structure.”
Last week, SST began surveying families about transportation, opinions on remote learning and technology needs, Hickey said. W-H schools have also been conducting such surveys.
“We have a working group of administrators, teachers and staff and we’re meeting remotely and sharing information, and we’re looking at scheduling models,” Hickey said. “But, right now, we’re trying to test some capacity.”
For example, if only one student were permitted per seat on a bus, what would be the capacity for the buses, which are owned by the bus company. The group has also gone through classrooms, setting them up per the three-foot guidelines from the state.
“The goal is that, whatever we come out with, would be routine that people could easily understand and that, if we are going to do remote learning in any dosage, it’s not going to look exactly like it did when we were building the plane while it was in flight back in March through June.”
Teachers will be incorporated into the process so a more robust remote learning platform is also built at the same time. Hickey said he is hoping the state will be issuing more guidelines soon, including what will happen if students contract coronavirus. Controlled isolation rooms are being planned at schools in some states for students showing COVID-19 symptoms after they arrive at school, for example.
“A very important piece for us is transportation,” he said. “They have not given us clear guidance on bus capacity. And bringing kids from eight towns — that’s going to have a big impact.”
Some school districts across the country are using assigned seating on school buses, loading students from rear seats to front and requiring drivers to wear PPE and to drive with open windows when weather permits. Buses are also being disinfected before and after every route in those districts.
The number of families prepared to drive their children to school would also factor into bus ransportation plans.
“What I know for a fact is that I have classrooms with fewer seats and that is going to be a challenge,” he said. “I don’t see how we can go back 100-percent, mostly because of classroom size.”
Sports programs are another concern if participation is safe an dictated through the MIAA as to whether students can participate on game days if they are not physically attending class in the school building.