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What Will School Look Like In The Fall?

How Will Schools Handle Learning In The Fall? In-Person Learning? Remote Learning? Something Else?
School Committee Begins Process to Determine How Schools Will Handle Learning
Under COVID-19 Restrictions; School Committee to Decide by July 31
by Robert Stewart
     A lot is at stake as the School Committee enters its third week of a nine week process to determine how the school district will handle learning when schools open in the fall. The School Committee has appointed one task force – called the District Level Task Force - that will consider the state mandates under COVID-19 safety precautions.
     The other task force – called the School Level Task Force – will include members from each of the schools in the district. This task force will be charged with obtaining the input of parents, teachers and students. Both Task Forces will be meeting weekly in June and July to work out a learning plan for students when schools are scheduled to open in the fall.
     Membership for the School Level Task Force includes all principals in the district, two teachers form each school, one counselor from each school two parents from each grade level, students from the high school, the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Food Service Director and one school nurse from each buildings.
     Membership for the District Level Task Force include the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Special Education Director, two School Committee members, manager of Business and Finance, and the Director of Buildings and Grounds.
     The School Level Task Force will report their recommendations to the District Level Task Force which will then make their recommendation to the School Committee by July 31. The School Committee will then vote on a learning plan that the district will follow in the new school year. In general, there are three options the Task Forces will study: one is remote learning by all students in all grades; secondly, all students will return to their respective school buildings for in-person learning and the third option is a blended form of remote learning and in-person learning.
     In her newsletter to parents, School Committee Chair Marlena Gilbert noted that while both Task Forces will gather input from parents and staff, 85 percent of what schools will look like in the fall will be mandated by the state through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Gilbert noted that DESE has not yet provided any guidelines to school districts on what plans they should prepare for.
     Gilbert also added that whatever learning plan is adopted by Groton-Dunstable, the School Committee and administrators need to be flexible and be willing to adapt to rapidly changing scenarios.
     The School District had to finish the last three and a half months of the school year by teaching students remotely through various applications on the computer. The school district was relatively successful in making the shift from in-person learning to remote learning but it required an enormous effort in planning, teaching and adaptability by students.
     Despite these successes there were challenges posed by technology and also social isolation felt by some students. And, there were larger challenges that presented itself for special needs students. With that experience the school district could adapt to an all-remote based learning environment for students if necessary or if mandated by the state.
     With Option Two students would be able to return to their respective school buildings for in-person learning. However, this option could be tightly controlled by the state as certain safety precautions and restrictions are likely to be in place to slow any spread of COVID-19.
     These restrictions could include limits on the number of students in any one classroom at any one time, required face coverings, and readily available hand sanitizer.
     With Option Three, the school district could study a blend of in-person learning and remote learning. The two Task Forces are likely to study what groups of students did well with remote learning and what groups had difficulty. As an example one could argue that older students were better equipped to handle remote learning while younger students needed more personal interaction. In addition it could be argued that special needs students might do better with in-person learning than learning remotely.
     It is expected that the School Level Task Force will have their recommendations ready for review after the Fourth of July and that the District Level Task Force will have their recommendations ready by the middle of July. The School Committee will then review the recommendations of the Task Forces and approve a learning plan for the fall by July 31.
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