EASTHAM — Nauset Regional High School students will attend school twice a week and stay home for remote learning on the other three days, while the plan for preschool through eighth grade in the district — Wellfleet, Eastham, Orleans, and Brewster — is to return to classrooms five days a week beginning Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Unlike in the spring, when online learning was limited and there were no grades, courses will be graded and attendance enforced, Supt. Tom Conrad told members of the five school committees during a Zoom meeting on Aug. 6.
The four-hour meeting had about 100 participants and was broken up when a bat entered Eastham Town Hall and dive-bombed Conrad and Nauset Regional School Committee Chair Judy Lindahl.
The reopening of the district schools includes a requirement that all students — even those in preschool — wear masks, though there will be mask breaks: designated times when students can be outdoors with a plan for safe distancing from each other. Children will have assigned seats on buses and in classrooms.
The eight-day-late start will give teachers time to prepare for a challenging year, said Conrad.
High school educators must be prepared to teach both remotely and in person at the same time. All staff will add policing social distancing and mask-wearing to their job descriptions.
Meanwhile, the Cape and Islands teachers’ unions are opposing a full return to classrooms, and pushback came from some school committee members from all four towns. Martha Gordon, of the Wellfleet committee, asked why schools will return to business as usual when everyone else in town government still works from home.
Conrad responded, “We have depended on information from a variety of medical directors and they are going to be giving us additional information, but they are of the opinion that, if we can follow the guidelines as discussed, our staff and students will be safe.”
Of all the schools in the district, only the aging high school is too small to allow all the students to return with the minimum three feet between desks required by the state, said Principal Chris Ellsasser.
How small is it? Only four sets of bathrooms are currently monitored and usable in the entire campus serving 900 students, Greg Levasseur, chair of the Nauset School Building Committee, told the Independent. The school district will be asking voters to pay for the renovation of the buildings at upcoming town meetings.
High school students will be separated into two groups based on grade level, Ellsasser said.
One group will attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, everyone will work at home on Wednesdays, and the other cohort will come to school Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday will serve as a cleaning and disinfecting day, with few students in the school. The exception will be “high needs students,” who are learning English, on individual education plans, or have certain socioeconomic needs. They will be allowed to attend school on campus four or even five days a week, with each case to be decided individually, Ellsasser said.
Ellsasser said remote learners will follow the same schedule as students participating in the hybrid model. Everyone will attend four 80-minute classes each day, whether in person or online.
The classes will be live, so remote learners will watch their teachers as they teach students in person.
Ellsasser said the school is trying to have the online experience and the hybrid experience be synchronous.
“When friends who are at home are going to lunch, you’re going to lunch,” he said. “When you’re on a mask break, the other students are on a screen break. So the experiences mirror each other.”
Either/Or for Young Students
Hybrid models were not recommended at the middle school or elementary schools. Children will have the option to attend school five days a week or learn remotely five days a week.
The middle school will switch from hour-long blocks to five 100-minute classes each day, with breaks in-between, according to Principal Julie Kobold. She said the school is doing away with the use of lockers.
Google Classroom and Google Meet will be the platforms for online learning at the high school and middle school.
At the elementary level, kindergarten through grade 2 students will use a platform called Seesaw, while students in grades 3 to 5 will use Google Classroom, according to Wellfleet Elementary Principal Mary Beth Rodman.
“Students working remotely will still be submitting assignments and receiving feedback,” Rodman said.
An initial survey of families received 1,269 responses districtwide, with a large majority — more than four out of five — wanting to return to in-person learning. Just 182 families (14 percent) preferred a remote learning plan, Conrad said. Five percent were unsure.
Eleven families said they still need internet access while 82 families said they need increased bandwidth to be able to participate. Twenty percent said they would need child care should a remote or hybrid plan move forward, Conrad said.
Many What Ifs
Cape Cod has not seen a major increase in Covid-19-positive tests despite an influx of visitors, said state Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro, who is on the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force. Following a small bump after July 4, new positive cases have numbered between 3 and 10 per day throughout Barnstable County, Cyr said Aug. 6.
But the Cape and Islands Educator Action Network, which includes Cape teachers’ unions, wrote a letter arguing that reopening should be phased in slowly.
“I’m extremely sympathetic to families needing child care, but we also want all kids and staff brought back in the safest way possible,” network president Cheri Armstrong, a Monomoy middle school teacher, told the Independent. “For us, we have to be sure that it is safe. And that’s the MTA’s slogan, ‘Only when it’s safe.’ ”
Students’ reactions reflect fear of reopening combined with extreme dislike of remote education.
“Whatever measures they can take, there will be a lot of issues,” Will Mulholland of Chatham, president of the Nauset class of 2022, told the Independent. “My friends are concerned for their family members, so people are scared. On the other hand, a lot of people want to get back to being in contact with their friends. For me, remote learning was a struggle. It was not the same thing. But you have to weigh knowing that the community is safe and moving on with our lives.”
School committee members asked how the schools would react to a positive case, and at what point the schools would be shut again. Conrad said he was awaiting further guidance on that, but reiterated that there are many unknowns.
“The one thing we would all agreed on,” he said, “what we thought we knew today, will change tomorrow.” That’s something he says he’s getting used to. “We were taken aback by the number of families who wanted to go back to school,” Conrad said. “We have to be nimble and shift.”