North Adams schools to reopen remotely

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NORTH ADAMS — North Adams School Committee members have voted to reopen schools remotely this fall, at least to start.

School Committee members deliberated for nearly two hours last week before approving the intended reopening plan, which had to be submitted to the state education department by Friday. The details of the plan and scheduling are now subject to negotiation with staff, and will require final approval by the school committee.

The plan was approved despite Superintendent Barbara Malkas reporting that two-thirds of families surveyed by the district preferred a hybrid fall plan over a fully remote one. Malkas also shared some concern about whether grant money allocated to the district for supporting in-person or hybrid learning would be revoked. School Committee member Ian Bergeron argued that reopening schools remotely or in a hybrid fashion would likely require more teachers and staff to help coordinate schedules, technology and provide extra help to students.

"Since [Aug. 11], the district administration has continued the work they have been doing all summer to open the new school year in a way that provides robust professional development for our teachers, support for our students and families, and appropriate allocation of resources to ensure remote learning is as rigorous, effective, equitable, and engaging as possible for all students," wrote Malkas in a letter shared Friday with the North Adams school community. "While public health data indicates a very low incidence of infection due to COVID-19, we remain hopeful that there will be an opportunity to return to school for some level of in-person student engagement later in the year."

The school year for students is slated to begin Sept. 15.

In addition, Malkas said the district is planning to open two "learning labs," situated in the Colegrove Park Elementary School gymnasium and Greylock Elementary School cafeteria, to provide students, parents and caregivers with academic and technical support for remote learning. Each learning lab will be open by appointment to all North Adams Public School students regardless of grade level or school, and will offer physically distanced and partitioned stations with access to Wi-Fi and support staff. Students and caregivers can bring in their own devices to the labs or use devices there on site.

Malkas concluded in her memo, "The 'new normal' comes with its own challenges, stressors, and fatigue, but we get through this by working together with a caring mindset."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.

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