PROVINCETOWN — Sixth- through eighth-graders will be invited back to school for four more hours per week starting Thursday, Nov. 5, as the school slowly moves toward in-person learning.
The new plan brings older students in for two additional hours a day, two days per week. Their new hours will be 10 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. Eva Enos, chair of the school committee, told the Independent that having one group of older students come to school on Monday and Tuesday, and then another group on Thursday and Friday, gives each group five days for symptoms to emerge, should anyone become infected with Covid-19.
Enos said older kids are still coming in only two days per week because of their higher potential for infection and their ability to better handle computer-based schooling. Children in kindergarten through fourth grade will continue to go to school four days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.
All the school days, however, have been shortened to enable the school’s single bus driver to make two runs, to allow for social distancing on the bus.
Provincetown operates a prekindergarten through grade 8 school, with nearly 150 students (an increase of 24 from the previous year), as well as a free child-care program for infants and three- and four-year-olds. The school administration has endorsed a gradual return to school during the pandemic — a more cautious in-person plan than the other school districts on the Outer Cape.
With the number of Covid-19 cases continuing to be low on Cape Cod, Provincetown’s return to in-person learning is going even more slowly than the school administration would like. That’s because the district has just one bus to transport students from as far away as Chatham, and only one bus driver.
“I’m just thrilled we’re moving along,” said Enos. “It’s a slow pace but it’s the pace we have to do.”
At the same time, she continued, she is “very frustrated” by the lack of a second bus and driver. Nationally, buses are in short supply as districts must cut in half the number of students who get on board. Enos told the Independent a new bus would cost $200,000 — that is, if one could be found. And even if they did have one, the district has not been able to recruit a second driver.
“My dream is we get another bus,” said School Supt. Suzanne Scallion on Oct. 21. But she is not optimistic. “We are competing with other districts that are bigger, with deeper pockets,” she said.
Rachel Harrington, the mother of a Provincetown seventh-grader, told the school committee on Oct. 21 that the current level of in-person instruction, which includes lunch, is “completely unacceptable.” Her elder son attends Cape Cod Tech, where in-person learning is much more available.
Harrington said her older son’s class has a total of 12 students. On Nov. 16, Cape Cod Tech will have students back 75 percent of the time for academic work and 100 percent of their shop class time.
Provincetown students, Harrington said, aren’t getting enough academic instruction, especially those students who have special needs, or who are English language learners. In her view, they will have trouble catching up with students in other districts.