ORR district proposes hybrid learning, awaiting approval

Aug 1, 2020

MATTAPOISETT — Plans are still being solidified for reopening, but Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent Michael Nelson said in a July 31 letter that the district is submitting proposals to town school districts and workers’ unions for a hybrid learning model to use in the fall.

In the letter, Nelson acknowledged that it would be difficult with current state and federal coronavirus guidelines to make a full return. “However, we do believe we can make significant changes in our school schedules and operating procedures to make a partial return to in-person learning both safe and successful,” he said.

Though few details were revealed, the plan would be to bring students back into school buildings on a rotating basis by Sept. 16 at the latest for in-person classes in smaller groups.

When they are not scheduled to be in school, students will have a remote learning program. 

Nelson said the idea allows students to have some face-to-face interaction they missed out on in the spring while being able to bring in those with disabilities who need in-person instruction every day.

With the Aug. 10 state deadline to have a plan ready, the district will have to quickly negotiate with unions and school committees. 

Once the plan is ready, Nelson said he would promptly share it with the public.

Until then, the committee in charge of drafting the plan is hard at work. 

Made up of different school committee members, they have spent months working together on a plan.

“It feels like I’m back on-duty as a teacher,” said Rochester School Committee Chairperson Sharon Hartley.

She has two to three meetings a week on the matter and spends anywhere from three to twenty hours a week working on the plan between reading and talking about it.

“And I’m just a school committee member,” she added.

Hartley has 15 years of experience as a teacher at Rochester Memorial School, 15 years as principal in the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District and trained principals for the state and at UMass Dartmouth.

In that time though, there hasn’t been anything like this situation.

“It’s a tremendous piece of work,” Hartley said.

Though the district’s plan is not yet common knowledge, Hartley said that everybody at the central office is “working really hard to do right by the children.”

One of the steps in approving the plan is to get the OK to change the calendar for the school year. 

The state and the Massachusetts Teachers Association recently came to an agreement to allow districts to shorten the school year up to 10 days shorter if needed for reopening.

All three committees will vote on shortening the school year in upcoming meetings in preparation for the vote to go before the Joint School Committee on Aug. 12.

“It’s such a fluid situation,” said Joint School Committee Chairperson Cary Humphrey.

He isn’t on the committee, he said, but those that are on it are working on plans for a district that has three towns, four separate school committees and five different schools.

Marcelle St. Jean is a Marion resident with two sons who attend Sippican School and Old Rochester Regional Junior High School.

Both of her parents contracted coronavirus, her aunt passed away from it, and her youngest has asthma. 

Asked about her fear of her children contracting at her school, her answer was practical: “What can I do?”

She believes one of the most important aspects that needs to be included is to meet the needs of all students.

“I think those that have an IEP need extra care,” and St. Jean believes those students should be prioritized to be in-person.

Her oldest son, who has an IEP, would benefit from an idea like that.

St. Jean also gave ideas that could help stop the spread of the virus amongst students.

They included testing every student before they return to school, quarantining students whose families went out-of-state recently, making sure parents and students actually quarantine, and having school outdoors as much as possible.

Cleide Marujo has mixed feelings about her daughters returning to school in Mattapoisett. 

Though her husband has had the flexibility to work from home, the pandemic has been difficult for her family because she has had to isolate her mother in law, who lives with them. 

Marujo said that her mother in law would normally be responsible for picking her daughters up, but now that would only expose her. 

Despite the risk, Marujo said she would prefer to see her daughters in a full-time classroom.

She said that her daughters, who are in grades four and six at Old Hammondtown School, “want to go back to school and see friends.”  

However she says that for her as a parent this requires a certain amount of “trying to be positive and don’t panic.”

Marujo also feels for the decisions that teachers must make in difficult times.

Still, she said she feels lucky that her husband works for a company that encourages him to work from home so that he can take care of his family.

She also acknowledged that some people who work jobs on set shifts may not have that luxury.