Superintendent Bartholomew Expected to Present Recommendations to School Committee for Earlier, Phased Return for Grades K-2 and 3-6 Starting Before the End of March
WEST NEWBURY — Superintendent Justin Bartholomew wishes to provide the community with an update regarding the 100% Pentucket Working Group, which has been reviewing guidance from state and federal authorities and has been keeping the Pentucket Regional School District’s administration updated with vital data on the feasibility of returning to fully in-person learning in the district’s elementary schools.
Based on new guidance received late Tuesday, all Pentucket elementary students will return to fully in-person learning no later than April 5. Middle School students will return no later than April 28. Superintendent Bartholomew expects that Pentucket Regional High School students also will return by April 28 because of the interconnected nature of the middle and high schools.
Students will return to the classroom with newly instituted 3-foot social distancing minimums, which have been approved by the boards of health in all three towns and reviewed by the Pentucket Regional School District Physician, Dr. Stephen Beaudoin.
With the planning in progress, it is highly possible that elementary in-person instruction will resume sooner than April 5. Dr. Bartholomew plans to present his final recommendations to the School Committee for its next meeting, Tuesday, March 16.
“Our elementary students will return by April 5; however, we believe it is possible that we will phase in grades K-2 and 3-6 and be able to do so earlier than April 5. We will also build in a professional development day for teachers who are starting what is, for all intents and purposes, a new school year,” Superintendent Bartholomew said. “We are welcoming back students, many of whom have not been to school in a year and have not seen their classmates in a year.
“We believe we will be able to get our elementary school students back into school before the end of March, and we are working diligently to make that happen. I am hopeful that this information will be finalized in the form of a recommendation to the School Committee for consideration at its next meeting on March 16.
“It has been a very long year, and I want to thank all of our parents, faculty, staff and students for everything that have sacrificed to bring us to this point.”
Dr. Bartholomew and the boards of health in all three towns stress that this return to school is an opportunity that should not be taken lightly.
“We have an opportunity to regain a sense of normalcy that has been stripped away from our lives due to COVID-19, and we must do everything we can do ensure we do not waste this chance,” said Diane Dardeno, the Town of West Newbury and PRSD public health nurse. “This means that masks, hygiene and appropriate social distancing guidelines will continue. It also means we should continue to follow CDC and DPH guidelines inside and outside of school.”
While 3 feet will be the minimum social distancing standard in school, increased distances will be the norm for lunches and mask breaks.
The 100% Pentucket working group met briefly on Monday, March 8, and the three communities’ boards of health representatives met Tuesday evening. At the Monday meeting it was discussed that while the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was unlikely to go as far as to formally recommend 3-foot social distancing, DESE did reference a medical study in The Lancet that showed a similarly low risk of COVID-19 infection for 1 meter (approximately 3 feet) of social distancing versus 2 meters (approximately 6 feet) in certain settings.
The return to fully in-person elementary school learning is subject to impact bargaining with the Pentucket Association of Teachers.
DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley first shared his intent to transition elementary school students to fully in-person learning on Feb. 23. Superintendent Bartholomew has partnered with the public health and safety officials from 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. The working group advises the superintendent on the latest guidance from the state and federal authorities as well as divisions made by municipal public health officials.
Pentucket has been planning for a return to in-person learning since the start of the pandemic and has gradually brought more students into the classrooms for more hours as it was determined safe to do so.
Pre-Kindergarten students are already operating on a normal schedule and have been since the start of the school year.