Updated Aug. 14
The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) is planning for mostly-remote instruction for the first quarter of the year, with elementary districts looking to tailor their approach to reopening.
In a virtual All-Island School Committee meeting that saw almost 500 participants, MVRHS Principal Sara Dingledy proposed a plan in which students would return to school in September using a remote model. Students would attend synchronous lessons (real-time), using a number of different online learning platforms, and would be provided in-person time for additional support with teachers and counselors.
At an earlier meeting, Dingledy said the high school does not have enough space to fit all the students with the current social distancing requirement of six feet.
On Nov. 10, the end of the first quarter, the high school would take into account any new protocols or testing options, student-specific data, state and local metrics, and feedback from community stakeholders, and decide whether to move into a different model.
Initially, schools in Massachusetts were required to submit reopening plans to the state education commissioner and release them to the public no later than Aug. 10, but Superintendent Matt D’Andrea requested an extension till Aug. 17.
Before MVRHS committee members voted unanimously to support Dingledy’s plan, the high school was slated to follow the phased reopening approach that is the current path of Island elementary schools. Not only will individual school committees need to tailor their approach to reopening and approve, but the bargaining entities involved with Island school districts must also enter into collective bargaining to discuss any necessary contract negotiations.
Some officials who spoke at length about their individual schools highlighted the importance of independence for each district in making a decision on how to approach reopening, while others felt the need for a more unified method. Across the board, D’Andrea stressed that the plan is a living document, and the avenues each school district takes will grow to be more refined as they learn and adapt.
School physician Dr. Jeff Zack said that along with proper health protocols, consistent mandatory testing would significantly reduce the risk inherent with students and staff being in close proximity to one another.
“Without a consistent testing regimen, I think it’s going to be next to impossible. We might be all right for a little while, but all it takes is a few asymptomatic carriers, and we could be in trouble,” Zack said. He noted that many symptoms of COVID-19 are common symptoms of winter bacterial and viral diseases, and without testing, it would be “very difficult” to differentiate from something like the common cold.
He proposed a new technology that he said the hospital “just heard about last week” — a molecular testing apparatus manufactured by Abbott Laboratories that allows for test results to be turned around in 15 minutes or less.
Zack proposed putting one of these machines in each school on Martha’s Vineyard, and conducting weekly testing on every student and staff member who wishes to enter the building.
Another boon of rapid testing is isolating a student or staff member who is symptomatic, and doing contact tracing to identify exposure.
“Imagine this — you have a kid with a fever in a class, the kid gets sent to the nurse. The nurse says, ‘We don’t know what this is,’ so we send them home. Now what do we do with that classroom? Who was around them, and do we do contact tracing? If we have the ability to screen them out at the time of illness, we will be able to do more effective contact tracing,” Zack said.
He said he understands the controversial nature of mandatory testing for in-person learning, but said it will ultimately be up to school committees to decide what risk management measures they wish to take.
“That’s what it would take to make this plan the safest it can be,” Zack said. “It’s going to suck, but I don’t see a reason why it actually can’t happen.”
The only major change in the elementary schools’ plan, according to Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith, is that high-needs students like those in Project Headway would go back to in-person learning right away, along with pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and possibly first grade. Smith said that for this group of students, known as cohort C, the schools would stress four days a week of in-person instruction.
Under a hybrid model, Cohorts A and B would be taught two days per week of in-person instruction, with three days of remote learning, with in-person support as needed. Students learning under the hybrid model would have one Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVYPS) educator instructing them in the event that the schools have to pivot to an entirely remote model. Smith said this creates consistency for students and teachers. For cohort D, or students who are engaged in the fully remote plan, their teachers would not be engaged in in-person learning. Although the remote plan is a standalone program, Smith said that if the school can have “adequately licensed” teaching staff hired by MVYPS instruct students virtually, that is what they will do.
Those learning centers also offer professional development and staff training, which over 100 MVRHS teachers engaged in this summer. Smith said 45 elementary school teachers also underwent training from the Lucy Calkins Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.
Smith said all of these training programs are meant to offer teachers effective new ways of delivering instruction, particularly online learning.
Some elementary school officials thought that the updated model presented by Dingledy for the high school might work well for their schools, but members of the up-Island regional school district committee said that model would not fit well for their situation.
Oak Bluffs school teacher Eve Heyman said all the challenges and strengths that Dingledy laid out in her plan for the high school also apply to the other grade levels, “particularly middle school, where we also change classes and change teachers.”
All-Island School Committee chair Robert Lionette said he is impressed with Dingledy’s ability to take all the guidance offered to her by the health and wellness committee and the state and come to the conclusion that “she could not make it work in that building.”
“I am going to support her in that. I have two principals in my up-Island district who suggest a very different path based on the nature of their buildings — I will also support them,” Lionette said. “Those are two very divergent paths that go in two very different directions. Voting for this as a blanket does not in any way recognize the fundamental differences between buildings and districts.”
Chilmark School parent Elizabeth Bonifacio said that each school has its own needs, and teachers operate in different ways depending on the district.
All individual school committees voted unanimously to support the plan proposed by Dingledy and D’Andrea, except the up-Island regional school district, which passed the vote 3-2, with Lionette and Skipper Manter voting in opposition.
Ultimately, it will be up to individual schools to decide which version of the plan sent to the state will work best for their community, and tailor their approach to reopening as they see fit.
Updated to include more details from Thursday night’s meeting.