WEST NEWBURY — Superintendent Justin Bartholomew wishes to provide the community with an update following the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision yesterday to authorize Commissioner of Secondary and Elementary Education Jeffrey Riley to require districts to transition to fully in-person learning.
Following the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s meeting yesterday, Commissioner Riley is authorized to require districts to transition to fully in-person learning by no longer accepting hybrid and remote learning models towards the required number of student learning time hours for the school year.
Commissioner Riley indicated in a memo issued to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education prior to yesterday’s meeting that he intends to phase-in the return to fully in-person learning, beginning with elementary school students returning to classrooms in April. “Subsequent determinations” will be made for the transition of middle and high school students to fully in-person learning, he wrote in the memo.
Students who opt to continue learning through a fully remote model will still be able to do so, however, and their remote learning hours will still count toward the required total for the year. Additionally, districts will be able to seek waivers for modified transitions to fully in-person learning from DESE, should they demonstrate a need to do so.
To read the memo in full and learn more about yesterday’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting, click here.
Commissioner Riley first shared his intent to transition elementary school students to fully in-person learning on Feb. 23. Days after Commissioner Riley’s initial announcement, Pentucket Regional School District partnered with the towns of Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury to form the 100% Pentucket initiative, a working group of professionals and representatives of the district and its member communities to prepare and plan for a return to five-day in-person instruction this spring.
“Once Commissioner Riley announced this plan late last month, our district quickly sprang into action to begin planning for a safe transition back to fully in-person learning in anticipation that his plan would be approved,” Superintendent Bartholomew said. “Our district has always sought to bring students back to a fully in-person learning model as soon as it was safe to do so, and we eagerly await further guidance on next steps from the state.”
Pentucket Regional School District has continually planned for various hybrid and in-person learning models throughout the school year as the state of the pandemic has evolved in the community and additional guidance has been shared by federal, state and local public health officials. Late this February, the district also began bringing in more students into the classroom for in-person learning four days a week based on those identified as having the highest levels of need.
Commissioner Riley stated in yesterday’s meeting that, if given the authority to pursue his plan, DESE will issue guidance for school districts early next week as they plan and prepare to transition to fully in-person learning.
He also stressed during the meeting yesterday that scientific research indicates the difference of three and six feet of distance is negligible in school settings for preventing the transmission of the disease, and that students and staff can and should return to in-person learning at that level of social distancing as long as other COVID-19 mitigation protocols are in place such as mask wearing, hand washing and so on.
100% Pentucket Progress Update
The 100% Pentucket working group held its first virtual meeting on Monday, March 1, and a second meeting was held on Thursday.
At its meeting Thursday, 100% Pentucket members reviewed survey data from the parents and guardians of elementary school students districtwide pertaining to the potential return to fully in-person instruction. In all, 1,028 parents and guardians responded, and 88.5% of families of students in kindergarten through grade six support sending their students back with three foot social distancing, the overwhelming majority.
The group also discussed aspects of returning to fully in-person learning including lunch, mask breaks, building specific layouts, classroom functions, staff vaccinations and timing. The 100% Pentucket working group will meet next on Monday, March 8 to discuss yesterday’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting further.
While the district prepared a plan for returning to fully in-person learning in August 2020, the 100% Pentucket initiative eagerly awaits additional guidance from DESE.
ABOUT 100% PENTUCKET:
In February, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley announced his intent to pursue a plan to bring students in kindergarten through grade five back to school in April. For the Pentucket Regional School District, this immediately would impact grades K-6, because district elementary schools serve K-6.
The District has additionally created the 100% Pentucket Working Group to update its existing return to school documentation and review current and upcoming guidelines on school safety procedures, including social distancing and sanitation. Once this is determined, the district will be ready to move forward with plans to return to fully in-person learning. The Working Group also seeks to ensure the district and its three member communities are communicating with the public in a consistent manner.