School reopening plans detailed in School Committee presentation

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The Gloucester School Committee hosted a meeting to discuss the reopening of the Gloucester Public Schools district last night.  The School Committee was present in order to ask questions for a vote next week.

The plans for each level were presented as follows; for the elementary schools, two plans were presented. One of which, called the “In Person+1 Hybrid,” had students going to school for four hours, five days a week with a one hour learning period after school. The A/B Hybrid has kids going to school in two different cohorts which would alternate days.

In O’Malley, kids would be going to school from 7:40am-12:15pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with 90 minutes of remote learning in the afternoon. Wednesday would be remote learning.

At Gloucester High School, the students would divide into the Crimson and Cream Cohorts, with a 9th/10th grade bubble and an 11th/12th bubble. On Mondays through Thursdays, students would go to school for either four academic periods or three academic periods and one homeroom period. Virtual periods would be divided into periods reflection in-person days, lasting 45 minutes.

For more information, refer to Mila Barry’s article which goes into more detail on the different plans.

New Superintendent Ben Lummis said that “Our top priority is the safety of the children of Gloucester.”

He acknowledged the risks of COVID-19 but, said “

We need to minimize risks as best as we can. Driving a car is dangerous but we do it because we know how to minimize the risk.”

— Superintendent Ben Lummis

Gloucester Health Department Head Karen Caroll also spoke at the meeting about how Gloucester is handling the pandemic. She said that Gloucester has had “zero deaths from people under 19” and that Massachusetts has a 2.2% positive test rate, which is higher than before but not a sign of a spike in cases.

Caroll also discussed the precautions being taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Gloucester. She announced that Gloucester is beginning to do testing on water and fecal matter which will help the city “ establish a baseline and compare it to other communities.” She also emphasized that wearing masks will help, especially in schools saying “it will not spread like wildfire through a classroom, if we have people wearing masks.”

However at the beginning of the meeting, the School Committee announced that there would be no comments from the public on this issue.  They said  there would be a meeting on Monday, August 10th where the public could ask questions about the reopening plans.

People were allowed to comment on this ruling, with GHS English Teacher Cynthia Mochowski, O’Malley Middle School Spanish Teacher Heidi Wakeman and Teacher Union Vice President and GHS Science Teacher Rachel Rex expressing their disapproval.  “I look forward to seeing you at the bargaining table,” said Rex.

Chairman Jonathan Pope responded to criticism saying “This is a school committee meeting not a forum. We are not trying to deprive people of their ability to talk. ”

The Gloucester Teachers Association felt that their voices were “silenced” and released a statement regarding the meeting.

The statement discussed how the Teachers Association disapproved of the current plans to go back into schools because of the potential risks for teachers, students, parents and the rest of the community,  the unknown role of children in the spread of COVID-19, and current school conditions.

However, they do approve of a gradual reopening. Under this plan, all learning would start virtually. Afterwards, students and teachers would slowly come back to school in order to minimize the potential risks and spread of COVID-19.  The also disapprove of curriculum-in-a-box programs, where professional teachers would be replaced with “remote learning management.

They did state their approval for remote learning “if the alternative is to return to our school buildings in their current condition and under the social distancing parameters in the GPS preliminary plans” and “if it is designed by our educators in collaboration with one another, as a way to resume learning safely.”

The full statement released by the Gloucester Teachers Association can be read here.