Mattapoisett K-2 to return to in-person school in January

Dec 7, 2020

MATTAPOISETT — After months of outcry from parents, the town’s school committee voted at a Dec. 7 meeting to adopt a plan to return kindergarten, first and second grade students to full in-person learning by mid-January.  

The plan utilizes large, open spaces at Old Hammondtown and Center Schools to accommodate students while maintaining six feet of social distancing. 

“This is what I believe is best for our youngest children,” Mattapoisett Schools Principal Rose Bowman said, adding that young students’ literacy is paramount. 

Under the plan, some kindergarteners will not have their current teachers, and some will switch schools. First and second graders will remain in their current classes.

Areas like gyms and libraries will be used to accommodate students, and one remote teacher will be shifted to in-person teaching. 
Kindergarten will be broken into four classes: one class of 18 and three classes of 10. 

The class of 18 will have to move to the Center School gym, and a new paraprofessional will be hired to work with the class. 

Remote-only learning will still be offered, with those students being taught by one reading teacher and one math teacher. 

Committee chair Jim Muse noted that, while a step forward, the plan isn’t perfect. 

“There are things that are happening that are not optimal,” Muse said, like how some students will have to change schools. 

And the current hybrid model will no longer be used for Kindergarten, first and second grade, causing issues for students who are being taught in isolation or quarantine. Grades 4-6 will continue to use the hybrid learning model, in which students spend three days per week learning remotely and two days learning in-person at their school. 

Superintendent Michael Nelson noted that the plan is not immune to change. 

“If we’ve learned anything, it’s that nothing is predictable,” he said. 

But reaching a consensus on how to return to in-person school in Mattapoisett has been a months-long debate between parents and the school district. 

Before the in-person return plan was approved by the school committee, the meeting was opened for public comment, and parents and community members alike had a lot to say about reopening. 

In past meetings, public comment was dominated by parents who wanted their children back in school full time. But this time, parents advocating for the current hybrid model had their say, too. 

“We all want what’s best for our kids,” said parent Randy Alain. He said he was in favor of the safety measures the district has taken, and that it was a big decision for his family to even participate in the hybrid model. 

Some also came out in support of the health of teachers. 

Beatrix Apperson said teachers were not being accounted for by those who advocated for their children to return to full in-person school. 

And Old Hammondtown 6th grade teacher Sara Jacobson said it was unfair to compare Mattapoisett to other school districts like Fairhaven and Acushnet who have had more in-person learning opportunities for young students than Old Rochester. 

But parents who want their children back in school full-time were still unsatisfied. 

“I wanna really challenge the committee here as to whose interests you’re really serving,” Kearny Klein said. 

Parents of Mattapoisett Concerned, a coalition seeking for the return to full-in person school for young elementary students, echoed the sentiment. 

“This is unacceptable,” said parent Stephanie Clark of the committee's inaction on a return plan. “I’m asking the school committee to do what’s best for the parents and the constituents.” 

Michael Kwoka, another Mattapoisett Concerned parent, was repeatedly muted in the virtual meeting by the committee over his comments. 

He began by criticizing Muse over his handling of the three minutes allotted to each person for public comment. During public comment, Muse read a letter from Old Rochester Regional School Committee member Frances Kearns advocating for continued safety measures in buildings, which also cited the differing effects the pandemic has had on white students and students of color. The letter was read by Muse and treated as a public comment. But when three minutes had passed, Muse kept reading in order to finish the letter. The same grace period was not afforded to parents advocating for their children’s return to full in-person school. 

Kwoka was muted again when he reminded the meeting’s attendees to vote in upcoming school committee elections. 

Muse said Kwoka and others were muted when their comments no longer pertained to direct policy items listed on the committee’s agenda. 

At the meeting’s close, Muse said it was “unfortunate” that parents’ comments, which he perceived in some cases as personal attacks, were made before the return plan was approved. He added that the public was repeatedly told the committee was working on a solution.

Though, parents repeatedly called in prior meetings for further transparency on feasibility and decision-making processes regarding an in-person plan, and were not given the opportunity to hold their comments until the end of the Dec. 7 meeting.