ORR High School, Junior High students to return to full in-person learning

Mar 24, 2021

Old Rochester Regional High School and Junior High students will return to full in-person learning on April 27.

At a March 24 ORR School Committee meeting, members voted unanimously to approve the pivot from hybrid learning to full in-person learning, following presentations from ORRHS Principal Michael Devoll and ORRJHS Principal Silas Coellner.

When students return to full in-person school, the current hybrid in-person and remote learning model will be removed. But parents will still have the option to enroll their students in full remote learning instead of full in-person.

At the junior high, students’ days will be split into eight class periods on Mondays and four longer class periods Tuesday through Friday.

Students will be given a 20-minute lunch break and multiple eight-to-ten minute mask breaks throughout the day.

The school will also do weekly mental health checks on students, conducted by guidance counselors.

For students to return to the junior high, desks will have to be placed three feet apart in classrooms, the minimum distance indicated in state guidance. At lunch, however, students will sit six feet apart in the auditorium. Teachers and faculty will remain six feet away from students at all times.

Additionally, masks will be required in school, regardless of vaccination status.

While the school tried to keep things like teachers and classrooms as consistent as possible for the pivot, some changes to students’ teams will have to be made, and some classes will be moved to bigger rooms.

“So we’re trying to maximize spacing and human load on each classroom,” Coellner said.

At the high school, Devoll said there will be no changes to any students’ teachers, but some students will move to larger rooms for certain classes.

Devoll said plans to return high schoolers to full in-person learning began over the summer.

“So we’ve been preparing for this pivot for quite some time.”

Schedules at the high school will be split into an alternating “day one” and “day two” schedule.

On days one, students will attend four of their eight classes, each 85 minutes in length. On days two, students will attend their other four classes.
Like the junior high, ORRHS students will have a 20-minute lunch period.

But Devoll said the school had to change some rules to make lunchtime work out.

The cafeteria at ORRHS has space for 115 students to distance six feet apart. So, the school will allow Juniors and Seniors to eat outside under a tent — an option which is normally only provided to seniors.

“Being a little creative around lunches is important for us,” Devoll said.

School Committee member Heather Burke said that bringing students back to full in-person school must have been “a huge undertaking,” adding that she hopes it helps students get good use of the remaining 40 days of school.

Committee member Joseph Pires wondered how Old Rochester’s covid case numbers stacked up against other similar schools in the state who are pursuing in-person learning.

Superintendent Michael Nelson noted that most schools have a covid dashboard similar to Old Rochester’s, and that he thinks numbers at OR are improving.

“Our numbers are pretty favorable compared to where we’ve been in recent months,” Nelson said. “I think that we’re in a good position to be able to pivot, based on our covid-19 data.”

The School Committee voted unanimously to approve the two schools’ shifts to full in-person learning.

As the schools prepare for the April 27 pivot, other in-person programming at ORR is in the works, too.

Student government representative Peyton Lord said the senior class has decided on Shining Tides in Mattapoisett as its venue for prom. She added that the May event will adhere to any and all relevant state and local guidelines.

Additionally, in-person attendance at ORR’s sporting events is expanding.

Devoll said that under new state guidelines, the school can allow up to 150 spectators at games and meets. He added that opposing team spectators will also be allowed, and that ORR has staff to ensure that all fans are properly socially distanced.