'Largely smooth sailing' for first day of remote school year at Pittsfield Public Schools (copy)

Signs encouraging social distancing and the wearing of face coverings are affixed to a door of Stearns Elementary School in Pittsfield in the fall. All Pittsfield Public Schools students, except those enrolled in the virtual academy, should be back to classrooms on a part-time basis by Feb. 26.

PITTSFIELD — All Pittsfield Public Schools students, except those enrolled in the virtual academy, should be back to classrooms on a part-time basis by Feb. 26.

That’s according to a schedule approved this week by the School Committee, which interim Superintendent Joseph Curtis expected would be shared sometime Friday with families.

“As of [Feb. 26], all students will be participating in in-person hybrid learning,” Curtis said at Wednesday’s School Committee meeting.

Some career, vocational and technical students, as well as some special education students, returned to classrooms this month; part time, in many cases.

Students whose families chose to enroll them in the full-year online school, the Pittsfield Public Virtual Academy, will continue learning remotely throughout the transition.

After a weeklong winter vacation that begins Monday, educators will report to school Feb. 22 for professional learning, and to review health and safety protocols, Curtis said.

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The remaining elementary school students will return to classrooms for hybrid learning Feb. 25, he said. Those students will follow an “AM/PM” hybrid learning model, in which they attend in-person school for a few hours each school day in either the morning or afternoon, alternating with distance learning time.

Secondary students will resume an alternate-day hybrid schedule, with half returning Feb. 25 and the other half Feb. 26.

The School Committee, which directed Curtis last month to develop the reopening plan, approved the schedule Wednesday, after a meeting that lasted over six hours.

At the top of the meeting, educators and some members of the School Committee expressed concern about the safety of reopening, while other members maintained their position that students returning to school under the health and safety protocols is important to prevent further learning loss and emotional issues.

“There are many responsibilities of a School Committee member,” said member Daniel Elias, “but the No. 1 responsibility is to educate its students. We are currently failing some of our students, despite tremendous efforts by our teachers and staff.”

The United Educators of Pittsfield filed an unfair labor practice complaint the day before the meeting, seeking to overturn the committee’s January decision to return to in-person learning. The complaint filed with the state’s Department of Labor Relations alleges that the unanimous vote to return to classrooms by the School Committee violates a memorandum of agreement struck with the union.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.