Island schools prepare for a ‘very challenging year’

Task force will create reopening plan based on health guidance and community input.

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Students will have to distance and wear masks after in-person learning starts back up again. — Caroline Brehman

Schools on Martha’s Vineyard, which have been closed since mid-March, are heading into uncharted waters as they prepare for an academic year like no other.

During an educational forum offered to families, school officials dove deep into the many guidelines and restrictions established by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

Almost 200 participants attended the forum, many of whom asked questions and raised concerns about the start of the year. Some wondered what resources would be available to families who choose remote learning, and others asked about home screening procedures, and what best practice is when a student is sick or is waiting for a pending COVID-19 test. 

Superintendent Matt D’Andrea said that a number of committees within the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVYPS) reopening task force will be focusing on various aspects of safety, and drafting a plan.

The plan will be shared with the community in the first week of August, after hearing from families, then will be sent to DESE for review.

“We know that things are changing quickly, so even after that time, we may have to make adjustments,” D’Andrea said.

According to D’Andrea, the primary focus of the reopening forums, which he said he would like to hold regularly from now on, is health and wellness for both students and staff.

D’Andrea said families are being surveyed to determine what they feel comfortable with in regards to what school will look like, and whether they will take advantage of bus transportation.

D’Andrea said that school officials recognize the value of in-person learning, so that will be the ultimate goal, so long as everyone is safe (although remote learning will be available).

School nurse Catherine Coogan is the head of the health and wellness subcommittee. She went over in detail the provisions set forth by the state, and made note of some ways Island schools are considering responding to that guidance.

One question raised by the school community was how bus transportation will be handled with such stringent social distancing requirements.

Coogan said masks will always be required of both students and staff when traveling on the bus. In school, masks are only required for students in grades two and up, although younger students are encouraged to wear masks.

According to Coogan, DESE is basing seating diagrams for students both in the classroom and on the bus on a three-foot distance, but Island schools are hoping to have a six-foot distance policy.

Children in the same household may sit together on the bus, and windows will be left open when appropriate. Students will be assigned to a particular seat on the bus, based on pickup and drop-off location.

MVYPS is also recommending bus monitors, to ensure that students are behaving appropriately by social distancing and wearing their masks. The monitor would also help the bus driver with screening students, and administering hand sanitizer when students load and unload from the bus. As part of students’ morning routines, a screening checklist will have to be filled out and given to the bus driver before boarding. 

When possible, families are encouraged to use other modes of transportation besides the bus, as this will reduce the amount of contact kids have with one another. Drivers will also have to perform a pre-screening on themselves before coming to work each day.

Students may have to stagger their arrival times at school in order to avoid crowding the outside of the building, according to Coogan.

Inside the school buildings, people will only be exempt from masks if they have developmental, medical, or behavioral health needs that make mask wearing an issue.

Coogan said a schedule might be made for students to avoid crowding the bathrooms, and arrows or colored footprints should be used to provide direction for students on how they should move through the hallways.

According to Coogan, mask breaks for students and staff “will be a new activity,” and students will have at least two mask breaks per day. These breaks would ideally occur outside, but Coogan said they can occur inside, as long as students are safely distanced.

For any student or staff member who is symptomatic or not feeling well, a COVID-19 medical waiting room will be created that will be separate from the main nurse’s office. Students that go to that room will be assessed by the nurse, even if they are experiencing only minor symptoms.

“You can expect more students will be sent home as a precautionary measure,” Coogan said.

During recess, students will be monitored closely, and will not be able to use climbing structures or other shared equipment.

For classes such as music and physical education that require increased respiration, Coogan said, teachers should prioritize outdoor activities when possible. If these activities take place indoors, students must be wearing masks, and must be spaced apart by six feet.

“We will be encouraging students to sing at a lower volume, or all face one direction. Same with theater; we trying to keep voice projection down,” Coogan said,

Instead of students moving around to different classrooms, Coogan said one option is for teachers to go to the students. This will minimize the risk of contagion, and allow students to be contained in one space.

“We support eating in the classroom when possible, but students will have to be six feet apart when they aren’t wearing a mask, which is obviously when they are eating,” Coogan said.

She said schools will try to have students eat outside when possible, and have lunches be delivered to classrooms, instead of having them pick food up at a central location. School meals will be offered by pickup or delivery to remote learners. 

Water fountains will not be used for direct consumption, although students are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles and use the touch-free refill stations inside the schools.

Although Coogan said this school year will be “very challenging,” school and local health officials are working hard to plan for what is to come. 

  • We will see how many of these kids were having a blast jumping off Jaws Bridge this summer.

      • F.M. Point is seeing you dont get it, every single one of them knew about CV-19, all the people getting sick & dying and they could have cared less about social distancing and using masks. Big joke, silly.
        Infact haven`t you seen /heard that many were having corona-virus parties?
        Now they will see that is was for real and all of our young folks in the community should now take it very serious as science is now saying they can certainly have CV-19 issues!
        I am sure most are carriers and spreaders, we will see the numbers after the start of school!

        • You should have just posted that instead of some nonsense about big bridge. This response has a point, your first one is gibberish.
          Can you post the Fox News story about immigrant drivers again? I miss that one…

  • This will be just another debacle for the D’Andrea-Dingledy-D’Agustino Team. With the uncertainty of Covid, inability to accurately assess student work, impossibility of tracking student attendance, awkwardness of parent-as-teacher role, and lack of motivation from students in online platform, there will be major lags in progress and learning. But as has happened in the past, this team shall pass the buck, and relinquish accountability. Good thing School Board, with A.Houghton will keep an eye on the school… or not…

    • The base problem with the Island schools is that they do not have equality people like Erika in charge.

  • Going forward, maybe school leaders need to have these meetings in person. To earn the publics trust that it is safe to meet in groups with PPE and distancing and there is no anxiety that goes along with it. The meetings should be in a classroom or a bus.

    • Good point, the optics are pretty dreadful here, administrators hiding behind computer screens telling families that it’s safe for their children to be in classrooms, it would instill confidence if they put themselves there first

  • Good job, MVY, sounds like the schools are ignoring national Democrat orders to shut down.

    Remote learning has been really abusive to public school students. It hasn’t worked at all. Kids need to be in school. Let Democrats worship Covid 19 hysteria if they wish, just don’t attack the kids.

    • The US is 4.2% of the world population.
      The US has 23% of the world’s Covid 19 deaths.
      The Republicans have been in charge for 3.5 years.
      They have Made America First.
      First in Covid – 19 deaths.

      What is your Covid – 19 hysteria point?
      50% of world deaths?
      Can the Republicans deliver?

  • Covid – 19 is passed by close human contact.
    Republican or Democrat.
    Schooling involves close human contact.
    Republican or Democrat.
    Covid – 19 involves death.
    Republican or Democrat.
    How many Covid – 19 deaths is too many.

  • This image of schools reopening sounds like a dystopian nightmare. I would have to agree with D’Andrea about the value of in-person learning, but at what cost? I fear the damage this sort of environment will have on young kids, where there are social-distance police monitoring their behavior all day. We don’t know the psychological impact that might have, say on a 7 year old. Wearing a mask in gym class whenever it’s cold or rainy (the majority of the school year)?? We don’t yet know what sort of health repercussions wearing a mask for 7-8 hours a day will have — no doubt it’s a negative one. Let’s pray a vaccine comes sooner rather than later. This is not the kind of world I want my kids to grow up in.

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