The Islandwide emergency shelter is moving from the Oak Bluffs School to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) in order to meet the COVID-19 space requirements during a disaster.
Erik Blake, Oak Bluffs Police chief and emergency management director for the town, said at a school committee meeting Monday that there are specific, state-mandated COVID-19 space requirements for people who are sheltered during a disaster.
In the event of a disaster, Blake said, each person in the shelter needs 110 square feet of space in order to meet the requirements, and if the shelter was to stay at the Oak Bluffs School, those facilities would only be able to fit around 50 people.
“The way 2020 is going, the fact that we aren’t staring down a Category 3 hurricane this week is amazing, it’s just going to be a regular nor’easter,” Blake said. “If we were to face a major hurricane right now, we would be scrambling to have space for everybody.”
If the Island sees a significant disaster happen during the era of COVID-19, Blake said, the shelter would need to be moved from the Oak Bluffs School.
Committee member Robert Lionette asked if there are any infrastructure or technology upgrades that would be necessary for the high school to act as an emergency shelter.
“The short answer to that question is no,” West Tisbury emergency management director Russ Hartenstein said. He continued to say that any shelter equipment would be derived from existing emergency supplies, and the high school structure and facilities would be the only thing needed.
Hartenstein said the layout of the high school is also beneficial, noting, “We would be using classrooms in a much better orientation than the Oak Bluffs School provides.”
According to Hartenstein, the kitchen facilities at the high school would also be utilized in the event of a disaster. “That’s why we choose schools so often,” Hartenstein said.
Based on the size and scope of the disaster, Hartenstein said the emergency management team would look at specific sections of the building and grow from there as needed.
He said a shelter assessment will be conducted to make sure the facilities are suitable, and identify any measures that need to be taken.
“We are looking to get back to our shelter number capabilities that we had previously, which was around 200 or 300,” Hartenstein said.
The school committee voted unanimously to have Superintendent Matt D’Andrea sign a memorandum of understanding in order to move the shelter to the high school.
School officials mull reopening questions
MVRHS officials are working to determine what school will look like as students start their remote learning and work slowly toward some type of in-person schooling.
Although plans may change in the coming months, school officials are anticipating a gradual, phased reopening that starts with a remote learning model and slowly rolls into a hybrid in-person and remote structure.
Because the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has, according to MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy, indicated that sports will begin in September, the question remains whether students should be able to participate in sports before the anticipated reopening of school facilities in October.
Assistant Principal Jeremy Light said there will be a survey being sent out to families asking how comfortable they would be sending their kids to sports practices while the school is still closed.
“Can we have sports before the students are back in the building? I think we can,” Light said.
Dingledy said the school will continue to follow the sports guidance from the MIAA, and plan for the season accordingly.
Dingledy also spoke about the different cohorts that might be involved in a hybrid curriculum model. Cohorts A and B, Dingledy said, could be alternating groups that switch between remote and in-person learning, while cohort C could serve high-needs students who require additional support. Cohort D could be an entirely remote model, Dingledy said.
Those students involved with the hybrid model could utilize a flex block, where teachers and faculty would be available for extra support. Dingledy said the high school is still considering what Wednesday will look like, compared with the rest of the week. “Is Wednesday a Zoom day? Is it 45-minute classes with Zoom and a check-in? These are the questions we are asking and looking for answers to,” Dingledy said.
D’Andrea said that for the elementary schools, the early learners (prekindergarten through third grade) are a particularly important grade block, and significant discussion is being had around the best way to serve that age group, while keeping them safe.
Committee member Robert Lionette said state education commissioner Jeff Riley has identified subgroups within school populations who should get back to an in-person model as soon as possible.
“Anything from English language learner (ELL) students to students who perform poorly in online platforms, to students who don’t have a safe space to study during the daytime. How are we going to meet those students’ needs?” Lionette asked. D’Andrea said schools are compiling a list of these students, and will reach out to families to offer the necessary support.
According to D’Andrea, the high school is looking at a “much more rigorous remote learning model than in the spring. There is going to be a schedule every day, there is going to be grading, there is going to be attendance,” D’Andrea said.