SPECIAL COVERAGE ON THE CORONAVIRUS
Vote On School Reopening Plan Scheduled for August 6th
By: Greg Lane, Hingham Current Staff, July 30, 2020
Question and results from Hingham Public School's Survey sent to parents on Friday, July 17th
The Hingham School Committee is expected to vote next Thursday on how students will take classes during the COVID-19 pandemic when the school year starts.
During a School Committee meeting on July 27th, Superintendent Paul Austin said a hybrid model of instruction, with students alternating between in-person and remote learning, is the most feasible option for the district. "Bringing students back to school full time is off the table," Austin said, "because meeting safety guidelines set by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is a challenge."
The school district’s feasibility study, which describes plans for the hybrid model as well as remote and in-person, is due to DESE on Friday, July 31st. Many parents are frustrated that the district has been slow to release its plan, especially since communities such as Braintree, Cohasset, Concord and Milton have all released their plans already. During the meeting, Austin committed to having the study results posted to the district’s website by this weekend. "I know that parents are anxious to see a full report and plan for reopening,” said Austin. “We plan to have the feasibility study on the school website for the community this weekend."
If approved by the School Committee, the hybrid plan would require changes in scheduling related to the use of spaces, including staggered schedules and mealtime scheduling. “School is going to look very different,” said Austin. “We’ve had to remove every piece of furniture out of the rooms to maximize how many students can be safely in a space.” In addition, school policy will prohibit students from moving throughout the classroom.
According to a presentation by the superintendent, the district is also preparing to ensure that staff offices, mask break spaces, student eating areas, medical writing rooms and entry and exit points all meet DESE health and safety guidance.
In June, Austin cautioned the Finance Subcommittee of the School Committee that school reopening during the pandemic comes with a brand new set of costs that are not currently accounted for in the Fiscal Year 2021 (“FY21”) budget. At the time, Austin anticipated the need the schools would have to set up smaller classrooms, shut down common areas such as cafeterias and increase the number of buses.
In response to the schools’ increased financial burden, the district’s PTOs sent a letter to the superintendent and school committee chairperson yesterday. “Hingham PTO’s bring in approximately $250,000 per year to fund activities, field trips, teacher mini grants, speakers and scholarships," said the letter. "We are already thinking about how we can ensure that we maintain the same level of funding to still provide some of these normal programs, while exploring what students, teachers, and schools may need as we reopen."
The debate on whether to return students to the classrooms has been an ongoing discussion in the community. Parents in favor of and those opposed to sending children back to school agree that the superintendent has done a good job of communicating, but both sides are frustrated by the School Committee’s lack of leadership and communication. In response, members of a group called Hingham Parents for Full-Time School has asked its supporters to email or call School Committee members and have shared suggested talking points on their Facebook page.
Many in the community speculate that the hands of Hingham school officials may be tied by state government or the teachers’ union. As a result, parents are left wondering what school will look like in six weeks so they can make other plans.