Pieces 'still in play' as Hoosac Valley weighs school-reopening scenarios

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All options still are on the table for reopening the Hoosac Valley Regional School District this fall, according to Superintendent Aaron Dean.

The School Committee met Monday night to discuss the logistics of safely starting classes in the fall, a decision that will be made final Aug. 10. Dean said he hoped to have registration information for Hoosac Valley soon.

"Right now, we're in the stage of looking at usability of different models," Dean said. "We have a lot of these pieces that are still in play in terms of how we're going to open."

Districts across the state have been asked to submit plans to the state for fully in-person classes, fully remote classes or a hybrid model incorporating both. A feasibility study on the different possibilities showed that some form of hybrid model would be best for the district currently, Dean said.

In-person classes would require children to be spaced at either 3 feet or 6 feet at individual desks. Dean said he could "not in good conscience" use the 3-foot model, regardless of national sentiment, fearing for students' safety. The 6-foot spacing would force every teacher to have their own group of children in every space available, which, Dean said, might hinder the district's ability to provide special education services.

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"We can't realistically accommodate all the students in a safe and orderly manner," he said. "We can get them in the building, but what we do with them is another story."

Making the switch to fully remote learning, an option backed by the Massachusetts Teachers Association to protect educators against the virus, also could cause logistical problems for the district. Although this option would be the safest, Dean cited the issue of technology access: The district needs 400 more devices in order to have one for each student, and because of a national backlog, these devices will not be available until December.

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"If we knew everybody could do remote and can handle it easily, we'd be saying that right now, `Let's go all-remote,' " he said.

Dean said the model that he supports would be a hybrid version. According to a survey from the school district, 30 percent of families would choose an online option, even if in-person school was offered, while 63 percent favor some sort of in-person option. The result, Dean said, could be two cohorts of students.

"In terms of a hybrid, we are either going to have an in-person with simultaneous remote cohort, or we're going to have a hybrid with alternating cohorts," he said.

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In the first model, some families would opt to remain remote for the duration of the semester, while others would send students to school. The second model could go in several directions, according to Dean, but the most popular version at present includes two in-person days a week for each cohort, with Wednesday being a fully remote day for both cohorts while the school is disinfected.

Dean acknowledged the difficulties with the hybrid model; the weaknesses of each of the other models persist in this plan, including a less "robust" learning atmosphere for remote students and potential infection for in-person students. He said that no choice will mitigate all these issues.

"Eventually, we have to make a decision and go with something, and that's the hard part," he said.

Dean reiterated throughout the meeting that frequent evaluations and adjustments will be crucial in making any plan successful.

"This is an anxious time for many, if not all, so, we've really got to make sure we're sensitive to that," Dean said. "We're providing supports and services, whether it's remote or in person."


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