PROVINCETOWN — Citing fears about tourists bringing the coronavirus here and the large number of parents who are hospitality workers, the Provincetown Schools administration has opted for the most conservative re-opening plan of any local school district.
All children in preschool through 8th grade, the highest grade in the district, will be educated remotely for at least the first two weeks of school, and possibly longer. A decision on when to go back in person will be based on “data” — not just the numbers of local Covid-19 cases but reports and studies published in “respected medical journals,” said Supt. Suzanne Scallion on Aug. 12.
The first day of remote schooling will be Wednesday, Sept. 16. After the first two weeks, a “phased reopening” will be based on information from scientific sources, Scallion said.
All these plans, she added, could change at any time.
Provincetown’s plan contrasts with what most other Cape Cod school districts have announced. Most have said elementary students will return to classes or have set a date for them to do so in the first month of school. (The Boston Globe reported on Tuesday a significant number of districts switching to all-remote schooling in recent days.)
Provincetown’s plan is most like Bourne’s, where school officials expect to transition from two weeks of remote schooling to a hybrid model within eight weeks, according to the Cape Cod Times. It also goes against the guidance of Gov. Charlie Baker and Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey C. Riley, who recommended that towns with low levels of new cases of Covid-19 opt for brick-and-mortar classroom sessions.
In the state’s new Covid-19 color-coding system, All of Cape Cod, except for Barnstable and Falmouth, were coded white as of Aug. 17, that is, having the lowest number (five or fewer) of cases. In a press conference on Aug. 11, Baker said he “cannot imagine a reason why schools in towns color-coded white or green would not return to in-person classes.”
But the Provincetown School Committee was unanimous in supporting a slow return to in-person learning.
“We have literally hundreds if not thousands of daily visitors” coming by ferry and car, and they are bringing all their contacts, Scallion told the committee on Aug. 12.
She said the state is not doing enough testing, which makes Baker’s color map unreliable. Scallion warned committee members that they will be “bombarded” by opinions and criticism but “we will have to be guided by our moral compass,” she said.
About half the students in the district are students of color; they are at much higher risk than white students, Scallion said.
Jeffrey Slater, the school’s director of special education, thanked the school committee for having safety in mind “and the unique position Provincetown is in … with multiple ferry boats and day-trippers and so many of our families are involved in the hospitality industry. I really appreciate the focus on safety.”
Not everyone, however, is pleased. Helena Ferreira, a teacher in the Provincetown Schools, said her daughter, an incoming kindergartner, has “zero computer skills.”
The kindergarten class will consist of 10 students, in a classroom with a private bathroom and a sink, Ferreira said.
“And I am an ELL [English language learner] teacher in Provincetown, and I’m advocating for these kids as well,” she said.
She described how online learning is plagued with glitches that parents are unable to solve. Many young English language learners tend to be responsible for even younger siblings, which compromises their own ability to focus. Ferreira teaches reading, which, she said, is extremely difficult to teach remotely.
Scallion said, “I know parents are very anxious to get their kids back to school. I am living that.”
But, she added, the in-school model won’t be a return to normal anyway; the same sorts of social interactions won’t be happening.
“I know that kids won’t be entering the school they left,” Scallion said.