SPECIAL COVERAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS  

EDUCATION

Parents Upset Over Timing Of School Committee Meetings On Reopening Of Schools

By: Greg Lane, Hingham Current Staff, August 4, 2020, Updated August 5, 2020
Hingham High School[Hingham Current News File Photo / Greg Lane]

The school department submitted their reopening plan to the State on Friday, July 31st, and the Community Outreach Subcommittee of the School Committee, of which Libby Lewiecki is chair, circulated information about a meeting that will be held after the fact to garner public opinion the day before the plan is expected to be voted on by the School Committee as a whole.

In an email to parents of school-age children, Superintendent Dr. Paul Austin said that the planning process has been guided by a vigilant monitoring of public health data in Massachusetts along with the input of key stakeholders. "The Commonwealth’s careful and disciplined approach to the reopening of Massachusetts has enabled our state to progress through reopening phases, in part because of strong compliance with health and safety precautions," he added. "It is our intent to reopen the Hingham Public Schools with a similarly deliberate phased approach."

While they may disagree on a best approach to the reopening of school, parents on all sides of the issue are unhappy with both the timing of these meetings and the plan itself. What doesn't sit well with them is the fact that Superintendent Paul Austin released a summary of the plan over the weekend, not the actual plan itself as had been promised. Neither the plan nor the PowerPoint can be found on the Hingham Public Schools website. The PowerPoint slideshow contains 12 pages of bulleted items which residents say is is light on details. It doesn't address bus schedules, anything about specific courses or how they are going to be taught.

 

According to Hingham Parents for Full-Time School (HPFS), a group focused on returning as many students to the classroom setting as possible- as indicated in the DESE guidelines, Dr. Austin told them that the interior classrooms at Foster make a full in-person return to school impossible (at that location) with the new guidelines from DESE. He made no mention of the middle school. HPFS is disappointed that the administration didn't "think out of the box" and consider using other town buildings, like the library.

"DESE is very clear in their guidance that the school districts need to consider using alternative spaces as classrooms- libraries, gyms, other available buildings throughout town," said HPFS organizer Suzanne Garland. "We would like to see that this has been done. We are asking for full transparency from the administration on all 3 plans (in person, hybrid, and full remote)," Garland added.

In addition to more transparency, the group is would like a clear metrics-based approach to guide the reopening of schools from school administrators. For example, the group wants school officials to release the Covid numbers that they need at the regional and hyperlocal level to allow students back into the classroom full-time.  

"Hingham and surrounding areas are already nearing zero," said Garland. 

Members of the community were invited to submit questions on the plan summary that they had received via email over the weekend by 5:00 PM on Monday in advance of a forum that will be held on Wednesday at three different times. "Given the significant changes reopening plans necessitate in the way schools operate, we also must negotiate our proposal with all impacted employee unions," said Austin. "We are on a very tight timeline - less than two weeks until the August 10 deadline set by the DESE for submitting final fall plans."

 

Parents were outraged that they were given so little time for feedback, and they expressed their concerns about the structure of the upcoming forum to Lewiecki whose email address was provided. In her reply to Suzanne Garland who is head of HPFS, Lewiecki said, "The questions will be grouped by theme, and Dr. Austin will attempt to address all of the themes during an opening statement in each of the forums," said Lewiecki. "If you do not hear an answer to your specific question then you can raise your hand during the Q and A period."

The meeting will be held via Zoom at three different times throughout the day.

 

  1. August 5, 2020, 9:30 AM - 10:30 AM
    Dial-in number: 1 929 205 6099
    Meeting ID: 896 7476 5620
    Website: https://zoom.us/join

     

  2. August 5, 2020, 4:30 PM - 5:30 PM
    Dial-in number: 1 929 205 6099
    Meeting ID: 838 7872 3365
    Website: https://zoom.us/join

     

  3. August 5, 2020, 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM
    Dial-in number: 1 929 205 6099
    Meeting ID: 840 3948 4679
    Website: https://zoom.us/join 

The School Committee is expected to vote on the reopening plan on Thursday, August 6th, and the district must submit the plan to DESE by Monday, Aug. 10th.

 

Libby Lewiecki, Community Outreach Chair, can be reached at llewiecki@hinghamschools.org.