A group of anonymous women have sewn two masks for every Provincetown student for their return to school in September. But whether students will actually come back to wear them in classrooms this fall remains to be seen.
As in nearly every other district in Massachusetts, the Nauset Regional District (which includes Eastham and Wellfleet), Provincetown, and Truro school administrators are still each finalizing three separate plans to send to the state Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). One plan is to open the schools fully; one is to stay with the “distance learning” that’s been happening since March; and the third is a hybrid of the first two.
For leaders, preparations range from scrambling to measure classrooms to see if there are three (the minimum allowed by the state) to six feet between desks and waiting to receive shipments of hand sanitizer for each classroom. They are considering an opening that starts with 14 days of at-home learning followed by a return to the buildings, along with many other scenarios, said Provincetown Supt. Suzanne Scallion.
Meanwhile, parents are waiting to find out if they will need to find babysitters, enhance their internet access at home, or allow their kids to return to schools.
And everyone is trying to watch the Covid-19 case numbers.
Schools will be finalizing plans to send to DESE by the first week of August, but decisions will probably remain tentative up to the last minute, Scallion said.
“Everyone is anxious for answers, but there aren’t any,” said Erika Meads, a Wellfleet parent of two elementary children, who served on an impromptu task force that met once virtually with Nauset Supt. Thomas Conrad about re-opening plans.
Here is what administrators do know at this point.
Provincetown Schools, and the Truro and Wellfleet elementary schools, have the space to bring back all of their students with six-foot distancing, according to Scallion.
Truro and Provincetown also have enough staff to make it happen, even if it means dividing classes, according to both Scallion and Truro Supt. Michael Gradone. As for the rest of the Nauset district, Conrad, with responsibility for the elementary, middle, and high schools from Wellfleet to Brewster, did not return calls for comment.
Administrators also know this: “distance” or “virtual” learning is hardest on students with disabilities.
“We have always said there are kids you could put in a closet and they’d figure out how to read,” Gradone said. “But for those who struggle in school with a teacher every day, leaving them at home only makes it that much harder.”
Online learning also puts students with economic challenges farther behind, a fact that so worries one Nauset Regional Middle School teacher that she is forming a nonprofit, the Kings and Queens Fund, to provide mentors for any student who needs one. Reva Blau of Wellfleet, the teacher starting the fund, said she is particularly aiming to support English language learners (ELL), immigrants, and the children of the working poor.
“There is no way you’re learning at your full potential if it’s remote learning,” Blau said. “So for any of us, it’s a struggle. Whether you are working at home or outside the home, remote learning brings enormous pressure. As an ELL teacher, I witnessed my kids go through all this with the difference being most of their parents were essential workers, so they were alone at home with no other adult to connect with for hours each day.”
One survey of Provincetown Schools parents found that only 25 percent of respondents did not want students to return to school at all in September, Scallion said.
Conrad, in a video update posted online, said, “There is a strong desire to find a way for kids to come back in the buildings.” He said “there is a distinct possibility” children will return to classrooms. “That’s not final,” said Conrad, “but possible.”
Gradone said, given the fact that Truro Central School has the staff and the space, he’s leaning towards reopening if the virus remains under control and there is no new research saying that kids shouldn’t come back to school.
It’s clearly good for kids socially, emotionally, and instructionally, he said.
Yet each school head is grappling with how to provide both types of instruction, virtual and in-person, since no matter what schools decide to do, some families will keep their students at home.
Scallion said all options will be available at her schools, but just how it works is the challenge. She is talking with her teachers’ union about videotaping classes for those at home to follow. But this could be a problem for teachers whose every word could then be shared on the internet.
Another big issue for school leaders is busing. Provincetown Schools bring children from as far away as Orleans, Scallion said. She is considering adding more trips to keep the buses less full, which will mean some students could have shorter days.
There is a shortage of bus drivers even in a normal year, so finding more drivers and vehicles will be extremely difficult. Gradone is asking Truro Central School parents to consider driving their kids, if possible.
DESE is advising that each child take up one whole seat on the bus (unless sitting with a sibling.)
Lunches will likely be served in classrooms rather than in the cafeteria.
“I think we’ll see people’s fear and we’ll have to deal with that,” Scallion said. “This is a very difficult time in America.”
How to get your questions to district leaders
- The Provincetown School Committee will review three plans, virtual, in school, or a hybrid, at a school committee meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 5 (no time scheduled). Send questions to [email protected].
- Truro Central School has set up a dedicated email account for questions about reopening:[email protected].
- Nauset Regional District: Send questions and comments to Supt. Tom Conrad: [email protected]