On Aug. 6, when the Nauset Regional School Committee met with all four elementary school committees in the district, nearly 100 people were on the Zoom meeting. That’s the size of some town meetings. Only there was no public participation allowed. The time was needed for questions from the school committee members, and, believe me, they were numerous.
Everyone sat for almost four hours while plans were unveiled and vetted for elementary, middle, and high schools. Then, just a week later, Nauset Regional Middle School Principal Julie Kobold changed the plan. Instead of returning to classrooms on Sept. 16, the middle school would follow a “hybrid” plan, with students in the building two days per week. That’s the same — currently — as the high school’s plan.
It was somehow symbolic when a bat found its way into Eastham Town Hall midway through the meeting. It flew in panicked circles around the school administrators.
When at long last the meeting ended, my two high-school-age daughters and three of their friends peppered me with questions: What about lunch and MCAS? How will the students be divided into cohorts? Have the teachers mastered Google Classroom? They want to know what in-person education will be like as much as they want to know what the quality of virtual instruction will be.
When I said I didn’t have many answers, they couldn’t believe all that time yielded so few details.
The truth is, details were in short supply. What the adults had talked about all that time were a lot of what-ifs, especially what if a case of Covid were to be found at school? There were a lot of arguments against returning to classrooms full-time, and there were not many answers.
Supt. Tom Conrad said decisions about staying open or going remote will be guided by the number of cases in the community. But that’s clearly not the only factor, because Barnstable County’s consistently low number of cases didn’t stop Kobold from reversing course.
In Provincetown, which of all the Cape’s districts has the most space for students to keep a safe distance from each other, the administration has pushed off a return to the classroom until at least the end of September. That decision, says Supt. Suzanne Scallion, will be based on research published in medical journals.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that social distancing, hand washing, disinfecting, cohorting (separating into groups), and community case data should guide decisions to return to work and to school.
There is talk of data. But our emotions are on edge. It’s becoming clear that no matter how long we talk, what we are doing is guesswork. The bat is not the only creature flying around in panicked circles.