Reopening plan proposed at Rochester School Committee meeting

Dec 17, 2020

ROCHESTER — Families will have to wait a little longer to find out if and when their students will return to full in-person school. 

Talks on a new plan to return Rochester Memorial School’s youngest students to full in-person learning were postponed at a Dec. 17 Rochester School Committee meeting. The issue will be discussed at a future meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. 

In the current hybrid in-person and remote learning model, students are split into two groups, which each attend school in-person twice a week, learning remotely the other three days. 

The new plan, which is similar to the one adopted by the Mattapoisett School Committee, would see the hybrid option removed in favor of the full-in person model for kindergarten, first and second graders. Grades three through five would still operate using the hybrid model. 

Open spaces like the school’s gym and band room would be utilized to bring students back in-person. 

Measures include the use of a double-sized classroom to host one class, social distancing markers in the hallways, and utilization of the gym as an overflow room from the cafeteria to maintain six feet of distance between students. 

But concerns about rising covid numbers prevented the committee from making a decision at the meeting. The committee will wait until post-Christmas covid data is released to decide on the plan.

“What we’ve seen after Thanksgiving really concerns me,” committee member Robin Rounseville said. “I think this is a good goal, but I don’t think it’s a goal two weeks after Christmas.” 

Officials at every level of government, from Boards of Selectmen to the Center for Disease Control, have advised against travel this holiday season. It is unknown how case rates will change after Christmas, but cases shot up in Rochester after the Thanksgiving holiday. Rochester has reached 56 active cases, over five times as many as were in town the week leading into Thanksgiving. 

Rounseville also worried about families who would choose to send their children to full remote school instead of full in-person.

“Some students are going to go from two days to no days,” Rounseville said. 

Rochester Memorial was the last school in the Old Rochester Regional School District to see a covid case, which occurred after Thanksgiving. Since that initial case, the school has seen six cases as of Dec. 17.

“I’m very excited about the prospect of going back full time, but I don’t think it has to be right away,” committee member Kate Duggan said. “I think waiting is a good idea.” 

Elementary teacher Debora Bacchiocchi suggested that a plan to return students to school might need to be phased in, adding grades one at a time. 

The committee’s decision to wait for more information comes after the district released data showing overwhelming support by Rochester parents for a return to full in-person learning at a Dec. 3 meeting. 

“We are in a place where it seems to me where more logistics need to be discussed,” Committee Chair Sharon Hartley said.