Rochester approves K-2 in-person return

Jan 21, 2021

ROCHESTER — Following in the footsteps of Mattapoisett and Marion elementary schools, expanded in-person school is on its way for Rochester Memorial School. 

After postponing discussion on an in-person return for Rochester Memorial School’s youngest students on Dec. 17, the school committee approved a plan to bring kindergarten, first and second graders back to school in person full time on Jan. 21. 

Rochester Memorial is targeting a Feb. 2 start date for students, after the school committee evaluated two timelines for the return. 

The alternative option was for a Feb. 8 start date, which would allow more time for students to adjust to classroom changes while still learning using the current hybrid model. 

The decision to return kindergarten, first and second grade to full in-person learning comes despite the actualization of a widely anticipated post-holiday surge in covid cases — a prediction which prevented the committee from moving forward with the plan in December. 

The in-person plan, which is similar to the one adopted by the Mattapoisett and Marion School Committees, uses open spaces like the school’s gym and band room to bring students back to the classroom. Some classes will be able to remain in their current classrooms, with the addition of new desks, while continuing to maintain six feet of social distancing. 

Grades three through five will still operate using the hybrid model, as Superintendent Michael Nelson said that kindergarten, first and second grade are prioritized by the district for an in-person return.  

Safety measures include the use of a double-sized classroom to host one class, social distancing markers in the hallways, and designated recess areas for students based on their homerooms. 

“I think it’s wonderful that the little kids are going to be able to come back to school,” Rochester Public Health Nurse Connie Dolan said. 

She added that she’s confident in the plan proposed at the meeting, and fielded a question from committee member Robin Rounseville on the rigor of contact tracing for school district-related cases. 

Dolan said that contact tracing is organized by a state database, which accumulates covid test results and informs her of positive test results from Rochester. 

Then, the public health nurse calls those who test positive and runs through a procedure with them. 

“Part of that is a question package,” she said, which includes questions regarding close contacts. 

Dolan said that if there were in-school transmission of covid, which is a key data point the district monitors to decide whether to pivot to a remote model, it would be identified by the contact tracing. 

The public health nurse said that with the district’s current six-foot distance protocol and safety measures like mask wearing, in-school exposure to covid is “miniscule.”