Rochester Memorial may bring all students back in April

Mar 4, 2021

ROCHESTER — One month after the Rochester Memorial School’s youngest learners went back to school full time, administrators are discussing plans to bring back grades three through six in April.

According to Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent Michael Nelson, the discussions are taking place in anticipation of new requirements from the state’s education department.

Nelson told the Rochester School Committee at a March 4 meeting that this week he expects Massachusetts’ Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to announce new guidelines for elementary students to return to full in-person learning, possibly by the end of April. 

The school’s kindergarten, first and second grade students returned to their classrooms full time on Feb. 4.

“For Rochester Memorial School, this would mean grades 3 through 6, knowing that all other grades at this time are now full in person,” he said. “I have charged the administration to fully plan for this very strong possibility.” 

However, he added that fully remote learning would likely still be an option for families for the rest of the school year.

Nelson did not mention details on how the return to school for older students would work, although he noted that he is awaiting more guidance from the Department of Education.

At the meeting he also updated the committee on covid cases — one individual is in isolation after testing positive, with 10 close contacts in quarantine and two awaiting test results — and commented on the return to full in-person lessons last month.

Many individuals made major contributions to making the pivot nothing but a success,” said Nelson, adding that the change has been “a tremendous accomplishment” for the school.

“We ordered new materials and equipment, repurposed learning spaces, moved classrooms, asked staff members to adjust mid-year, rerouted our school buses, redesigned arrivals and dismissals, and much more to make that pivot happen,” he noted. “All that effort was absolutely worth it.”

Rochester Memorial School Principal Derek Medeiros agreed. 

“Seeing these classrooms actually with students in them, and alive and well, on a day-to-day basis is certainly a great thing to see,” he told the committee as he showed them photos of the students in school.

Medeiros said that socially distanced lunches and recess have been successful, with scheduling tweaks allowing students to eat in the cafeteria and play in designated parts of the playground at recess.

Improvements have been made to the arrival and dismissal procedures, and the students have been “outstanding” at remaining distanced in the hallways between classes, he added.

“It is a beautiful thing to see kids and teachers back in the classroom,” noted School Committee member Anne Fernandes. “Thank you.”

An earlier version of this article stated that all students may be brought back by May 1. It now reads “in April.”