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Upper Valley school districts largely plan for hybrid instruction

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/6/2020 9:32:28 PM
Modified: 8/6/2020 9:32:19 PM

LEBANON — Students returning to schools across the Upper Valley in the coming weeks will see a patchwork of precautions and plans to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as districts prep for in-person classes, continued remote learning, or both.

Some schools are hoping that students can return for a full five days of in-class instruction, while others will remain remote only.

Most plan on adopting hybrid models that will allow students to spend at least a few days every week in front of instructors and with friends.

The Lebanon School Board voted, 7-2, on Wednesday night to adopt such a model that will go into effect when classes resume Sept. 8.

(Scroll down to see plans and discussions in the Hartford, Dresden, Rivendell, Claremont and Mascoma school districts.)

Lebanon

Supporters in Lebanon say the system, which would divide students into two groups that rotate through school buildings, would cut down on class sizes while still providing much-needed time with teachers and classmates. The model also would allow time for staffers to properly clean classrooms, hallways and buses as teachers take breaks to adjust in a new normal.

The plan drew praise from Erin Madory, a former Lebanon School Board member who is a Spanish teacher at the Frances C. Richmond Middle School in neighboring Hanover.

“The kids are able to form a relationship with their teacher but they are doing it in smaller groups,” said Madory, who was one of about two dozen people who spoke during the three-hour School Board meeting inside the Lebanon Middle School gymnasium; 65 people attended in person and another 350 live-streamed it through Zoom.

Five days of class time “doesn’t feel safe to me,” Madory added.

“I worry about the level of instruction that I’ll be able to give if there are 20 kids in the classroom, monitoring that they keep their face masks up, monitoring that they don’t touch each other, and maintain their distance and then still try to teach the subject to them,” she said.

However, most attendees who spoke publicly called for a return to five days of school.

Parents spoke of the difficulty they had with remote learning last spring and worried their children wouldn’t receive adequate instruction in an online format.

“This past spring with the remote learning, it was incredibly difficult,” said Kevin Purcell, who said his family struggled to keep up. “There would be three of us on Zoom calls at once. It was a circus and I don’t know how much learning happened, to be perfectly honest.”

More than 75% of parents surveyed by the district this summer preferred a return to five-day, in-person instruction while just over 20% said they either would home school or have their children learn remotely.

Lebanon resident John Pomeroy also pointed to technical difficulties during the meeting — including problems with an initial 100-person limit and audio — as examples of what families face in their own homes.

“With all of the Zoom issues we’ve had, with nine very intelligent people, two or three IT folks and still having issues on this particular meeting, could you imagine (streaming) a regular classroom every single day?” Pomeroy asked.

Andrew Gamble, president of the teachers’ union, also told the board that educators are calling him daily saying they can’t sleep because of anxiety about the coming year.

“The teachers are scared. They are really scared,” said Gamble, who teaches at Lebanon High School. “The good news is they want to be back in school, but they don’t feel comfortable in the five-day model.”

While it’s not yet clear exactly what Lebanon’s hybrid model will look like — school officials hope to provide detailed plans on Aug. 26 — the district unveiled what it called an “A/B model” Wednesday, which splits Lebanon’s student population into half.

From there, officials looked at two options. The first would see half of students attend in-person class for one or two weeks while the remainder learn remotely, switching off after that. The second option would have each group attend school two days per week, with everyone learning remotely on Wednesdays.

Regardless of which model is adopted, children and staffers will be required to wear masks during the school day, including while on buses. However, officials said, mask breaks will be built into schedules, such as during lunch, snack times and recess.

Social distancing of at least three feet will be required inside school buildings, with most classrooms able to space children about four feet apart, and a hand-washing schedule will be adapted to all grade levels. Lebanon school officials considered taking temperatures and surveying students about their symptoms before the start of each school day, but determined such an endeavor could take up to an hour and create a challenge for social distancing.

Other school districts have released their own plans for reopening.

Hartford

In Hartford, elementary school students will be split into two groups with one half attending in-person instruction in the morning and another in the afternoon.

“This will allow for smaller class sizes, easier transportation to and from schools and proper cleaning between student groupings,” according to an Aug. 3 letter to community members signed by Superintendent Tom DeBalsi and School Board Chairman Kevin Christie.

Middle and high school students also will return with hybrid models, although the letter didn’t detail those, and children in all grade levels are allowed to opt for fully remote learning. Parents will be asked to indicate their preferences in a survey sent this week, the letter said.

The Hartford Area Career and Technology Center will reopen with in-person instruction for all students “due to the nature of their coursework and the small class sizes at the center.”

Hartford school officials also are instituting new procedures to prevent students and staff from spreading the virus, including requiring the wearing of masks throughout the school day and spacing students six feet apart. The school district recently purchased new cleaning equipment for classrooms and buses, while all instructional spaces will be supplied with hand sanitizer, the letter said.

Norwich and Hanover

Students attending schools in Norwich and Hanover would return to in-person learning five days a week starting Sept. 8, under draft plans posted on the Dresden Interstate School District’s website.

Masks and social distancing of at least three feet would be required of all students and staff. District officials also recommend that students be checked for COVID-19 symptoms twice — by parents at home and either at the bus stop or school entrance.

Additional plans include “re-engineering hallways and limiting entrances and gathering spaces, limits on visitors and larger gatherings, and using ventilation and outdoor spaces where possible,” according to the draft by a committee of 30 community members.

The reopening proposal was to be discussed during a Thursday evening forum, with the School Board expected to take a formal vote whether to adopt them on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Claremont

The Claremont School Board voted Wednesday night to offer two options for school in the fall and is surveying parents.

One option is a hybrid model in which students would be divided into two cohorts. Cohort A students would attend school on Mondays and Thursday and Cohort B would attend school on Tuesday and Thursday and the other 3 days would be remote.

In the second choice, students would be attending school entirely by remote learning.

Rivendell

Students in Rivendell’s three schools will continue with remote learning when the school year starts Aug. 31. Superintendent Barrett Williams said parents can expect a better education than the one delivered this past spring, with additional instruction and staff time.

“Our decision to start the year remotely was not made lightly, but when considering the restrictions of in-person learning we recognize that students and teachers alike would struggle in such an environment without the proper professional development and training,” he wrote in a letter to parents this week.

Mascoma

The Mascoma Valley Regional School District will offer students the option of returning to five-day, in-class instruction or taking part in a remote learning academy.

Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said more than a quarter of parents are likely to continue virtual learning, leaving class sizes for grades K-8 averaging around 15 pupils.

“We’re really sort of creating a virtual learning opportunity for our kids,” said Isabelle who added that students will continue to have access to teachers, guidance councilors and social workers. “It’s not going to be 100% ‘just watch the teacher in the classroom.’ ”

Like other districts, Mascoma also would impose rules requiring social distancing and masks.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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