Mattapoisett parents seek in-person return for elementary students

Oct 23, 2020

MATTAPOISETT — After hundreds signed a petition to return Mattapoisett’s youngest students to in-person classes, the Mattapoisett School Committee held a special meeting on Oct. 22 to hear parents’ calls for better transparency and planning.

The meeting was held hours after the state’s covid data map designated Mattapoisett as a high risk community. But writers of the petition were steadfast in their efforts to gain transparency and a plan to return kindergarten through third grade students to in-person learning. 

“Issues are not being remedied and it feels like it’s getting worse,” said parent Stephanie Clark, one of the creators of the petition. 

Parents are looking for an in-person return to school for its youngest students, and they want to see the plan that the district had to make for that.

The state mandated that all school districts submit three plans for school reopening: a full remote learning model, a plan with a mix of in-person and at-home learning, and a model for full in-person learning.

The district released the plans for hybrid and remote learning. But parents at the meeting sought out the in-person model, which hasn’t been released to the public. 

Michael Kwoka, one of the creators of the petition, said it was “unacceptable” for the district to not release the plan, and called for administrators to work with the group of parents to find a solution. 

“The kids deserve it,” Kwoka said.

He added that a 2016 study by the state found Mattapoisett school buildings had 361 square feet per student, which would be enough to keep kids socially distant. This includes all areas of the school.

Michael Grossman, a parent and physician, said that according to the Center for Disease Control, 1.1% of America’s covid cases were patients ages 0 to 4. He added that the survival rate for people ages 5 to 39 ranges from 99.8 to 99.9%.

Nicole Klein, a district parent, said she would like to see the data substantiated that the district used to make the decision to not go with a full in-person plan, and what the data would need to look like in order to make a return to school.

School Committee Chair Jim Muse said he understands the concerns and frustrations of parents, adding that everyone in the district “absolutely, unequivocally has every child's interests at heart.”

To the mentioned points of data, he said the square footage was misleading because the statistic includes places like hallways and boiler rooms into the number. On infection and survival rates, he said it doesn’t take community spread into account.

For an in-person return, Muse said, “there is no combined information that creates a trip wire” to make it happen.

Superintendent Michael Nelson said the goal has always been to have as many students in school as possible, with respect to parent’s decisions on how they want their kids to learn. 

For a full-time return, he said staffing still remains a concern. The school would also need three additional busses for students because the capacity is cut in half due to state regulations. 

But not all parents present at the meeting were on the same page. 

“I think a hybrid option is better than being sent home” for full-time remote learning, said Aline Graves.

Parent Randy Allain said “it doesn’t strike me as the best time to make the jump” with virus trends going in the “wrong direction.”

Frances Kearns said that her two children are learning in a full remote setting, and said that they have thrived in the environment. 

Sixth grade teacher and Mattapoisett Teachers Association President Sara Jacobsen fell in the middle. She said there’s a risk in bringing back all students because of how exposed they’ve been, but the MTA wants to bring the district’s youngest students back safely. 

“We’re just asking for balance,” Jacobsen said. 

Mattapoisett schools Principal Rose Bowman said one of the most important aspects of the return was the relationship between students and teachers. 

Despite only allowing 11 children in a classroom because of space constraints, she said students “have risen to the challenge.” 

School committee members asked if it was possible to create an incremental timeline to slowly bring elementary students back to school. 

Committee member Carly Lavin was in favor of an incremental pivot to in-person learning for its value. But she said that releasing the plan wouldn’t be a safe thing to do, and she asked for “continued trust in this committee.” 

Dr. Shannon Finning asked Nelson to commit to sharing a timeline for next steps at the committee’s next meeting.

Nelson said that it would be possible to give an update at the Oct. 22 meeting after he has had time to process the comments and suggestions.