What will learning look like this fall? That depends on the school.

By Greg Lane, Hingham Current Staff, Posted July 13, 2020 
William L. Foster Elementary School on Downer Street. [Hingham Current News File Photos / Greg Lane]

With less than two months to go before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, public and private school officials are figuring out back-to-school plans for a year in which COVID-19 will undoubtably have an impact.


All schools in the area share the same goal for the fall which is to get students safely back to school in person, following a comprehensive set of health and safety requirements.  Remote learning may be a necessary option for some students who are unable to return to school due to underlying medical conditions. The potential still exists for all students to return to remote learning if COVID-19 were to force widespread school closures. 


For planning purposes, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) advises districts and schools to assume a “level service plus” budget in order to bring students back in person, which means allowing for additional spending on top of their projected budgets to manage additional costs associated with health and safety preparations. Beyond that, details on how to provide instruction will be decided by each school and district.  Many schools with Hingham students, like Boston College High School and Thayer Academy, expect to implement a hybrid model that combines in-person and remote learning.  They’re also offering online-only based on parent preference.    


Under a hybrid learning model, students both onsite and offsite would engage in a synchronized form of classroom teaching, and a normal class schedule would be followed.


On Friday, Boston College High School informed parents that the school would be investing in a variety of areas, including a $1M upgrade to classroom technology, in order to allow for the flexibility of the hybrid school model which it identified as the most likely scenario under current guidelines. Extensive work will be conducted over the summer to upgrade technology in the classrooms to ensure that students who are not physically onsite are able to remain as fully engaged as possible. “We are executing the necessary academic and operational changes needed for the school to be well-prepared for the September opening,” said Michael Hoyle, Ph.D., Senior VP od Administration, Finance & Strategic Planning in an email to parents. 


In the Hingham Public Schools, it is still unclear what the next school year will look like. However, the District’s reopening plan needs to be submitted to DESE by July 31st. Despite expressing concerns last month that COVID-19 comes with a brand new set of costs that are not currently accounted for in the Fiscal Year 2021 (“FY21”) budget, Superintendent Paul Austin said in an email to parents on Friday night, “Through the dedicated efforts of the Recovery Response Advisory Committee (RRAC), the District is well positioned to meet that deadline.”  


According to school officials, the RRAC is a team of more than 100 community members that are responsible for advising them on all matters related to the reopening of the Hingham Public Schools. The RRAC is comprised of subcommittees including Facilities & Operations, Education/Social Emotional, Student Services/Special Education and Communications. Each committee has been tasked with problem-solving different focus areas of reopening logistics.   


Members of the RRAC that are listed in a school administration presentation include Sara Ross, Liz Klein, Darren Baker, Noor Abdel-Samed, Ray Estes, Tara Healey, Ed Beighley, Heather Henderson, Bill Steele, Patricia Tai-Cioffi, Sara Abbott, Julie Brown, Meaghan Medici, Elisabeth Tregoe, Jen Van Gelder, Beth Crean, Stephanie Gertz, Michelle Grab, Kelly Hoppe, Matt LeBretton and Sonia Steele. 

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Initial Fall School Reopening Guidance

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Greg Lane can be reached at greg@hinghamcurrent.com