School district working toward in-person school for grades 3-6

Mar 9, 2021

Following the State Board of Education decision to allow the state to mandate a return to full time in-person school for elementary students, the Old Rochester School District is working on a plan to get its third through sixth graders back in the classroom.

“Our building administrators have been busy with the help of stakeholders preparing for a pivot to full in-person learning,” Superintendent Michael Nelson said, “at this time receiving updated guidance and direction from the DESE is most important to help finalize our plans.

Nelson told the Rochester School Committee at a March 4 meeting that this week he expected Massachusetts’ Education Commissioner Jeff Riley to announce more fleshed out guidelines for elementary students to return to full in-person learning, a sentiment he reiterated in a later email to Sippican Week.

In the following days, Riley announced that elementary schools will have to fully reopen by April 5, with middle schools following suit by April 28.

Elementary schools in all three towns have already brought back their kindergarten, first and second grade students full time. Nelson said the district is “currently planning for a pivot from hybrid learning to full in-person learning in grades 3-6.”

But he noted at the March 4 meeting 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.