LEESCHOOLSFIRSTDAY

Students wait on marked lines outside Lee Elementary School, until they are led in on the first day of in-person classes in September. Lee has moved temporarily to remote learning for all schools amid a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases.

LEE — Lee Public Schools will remain in hybrid learning mode, despite surrounding communities reverting to all-remote education because of a spike in coronavirus cases.

School Superintendent Michael Richard told the Lee School Committee on Tuesday night that he has been asked by several residents why Lee doesn’t go all remote as a preemptive measure to help keep COVID-19 at bay.

The Great Barrington-based Berkshire Hills Regional School District mostly is remote, with Lenox and Pittsfield returning to all online instruction because of a recent jump in COVID cases in their communities.

Richard noted that Lee is in the green, meaning it is on the low end of the state’s scale of tracking cases in each municipality. As of last week, Lee has 15 active cases, according to state health data.

Since the school year began in mid-September, Lee Public Schools has reported only five cases involving the school community, but they didn’t undermine the hybrid learning in the K-12 district, which has 452 students, according to school officials.

Under Lee’s hybrid learning model, two groups of students in grades 3-12 alternate days for in-person learning. On other days, students complete online assignments at home. K-2 and special education students attend school every day. Families do have the option of full remote learning.

Richard says the low number of COVID school-related cases shows that pandemic protocols at Lee Elementary and Lee Middle and High school are, and will, continue to be effective.

“For a good seven hours every day, our students are in an environment where their ability to spread [the coronavirus] is reduced and our ability to teach in person is maximized,” Lee’s top educator said.

Lee’s success isn’t lost on the superintendent’s daughter, Abby, who attends Williams Middle School in Longmeadow, which just reverted to all-remote learning.

“My 13-year-old daughter, who is in the eighth grade, called me [this week] and said, ‘Daddy, can I go school choice to Lee ... I need to learn in person,’” Richard said to the committee.

The town’s top public health official, James Wilusz, “supports and defends” Lee’s decision to stick with hybrid learning. The Tri-Town Health Department director, who serves Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, told the school board, “I feel schools are the safest place to stay during the day. Whatever schools are open, we want to keep them open.”

Wilusz called Lee “one of the easiest towns to deal with” when it comes to ensuring that mask-wearing, social distancing and other COVID preventive measures are adhered to in Lee.

“I’m a parent ... of two kids in remote in the Pittsfield school system. If I were to choice my kids out, I would choice them to Lee,” he said.

A student-conducted survey at Lee Middle and High School seems to support the administration sticking with hybrid learning.

Junior Emma Puntin, co-facilitator of student government at the grade 7-12 school, says at least 75 percent of the 88 respondents out of 225 students believe that mask-wearing and social distancing are going well. As for the learning itself, 85 percent have had no problem with their school-issued laptop; 76 percent say they have had a good to excellent experience reaching teachers during online learning days.

But, Puntin says the majority of students find online learning can last longer than the actual time of an in-person class.

“A little less than 70 percent of students say they’re spending more than 48 minutes on an individual class. This could cause difficulties in getting work done by 2:30 p.m.,” she said, referring to when the school day ends.

The students suggest making online assignments due by midnight of that school day, have a calendar with assignments, and be specific about the online class work.

“Tell students in advance what they are going to be doing so there’s no confusion the next day, like you’ll be watching a video and answering questions [about the video],” Puntin said.

As for first-quarter grades, the survey found that 69 percent of the students received grades as good as, if not better than, in the fall of previous years.

Committee Chairwoman Christine Lucy was impressed with and appreciative of the survey and hopes that Lee will continue to buck the regressive trend of learning elsewhere in the county.

“We’re doing well in our schools, and let’s keep it that way,” she said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.