Pittsfield to equip all students with laptops during remote-learning start to year

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PITTSFIELD — The Pittsfield Public Schools district will provide laptops to all students, after an announcement to families Friday of its plan to begin the school year remotely, while anticipating that vocational students, as well as groups of English language learners and special education students, will return to classrooms first.

Students will be following a "structured daily schedule" during the remote-learning period that will include video instruction from teachers, according to the announcement. Lessons will be administered using new online learning platforms, not Google Classroom, which the district used in the spring, after school buildings closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

All students will be able to receive a Chromebook through the district before the fall semester. The district will provide Wi-Fi devices to students who "lack appropriate internet connectivity" at home.

Superintendent Jason McCandless, in a message to the school community Friday afternoon, said the district will not offer "ticket transportation" when it eventually shifts to an in-person learning model. The School Committee has approved an "AM/PM" hybrid model in which students attend a few hours of in-person instruction in either the morning or afternoon and complete course work at home.

"Ticket transportation" had allowed families ineligible for free transportation due to their proximity to school to pay for bus service, School Committee member William Cameron told The Eagle on Friday.

It no longer will be offered because of distancing requirements that will be in effect on school buses, he said, requiring that capacity be reduced by two-thirds.

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"In order to maintain the spacing requirements on the buses, ticket transportation is suspended," Cameron said.

In his letter to the school community, McCandless wrote that the pandemic has shown that there are times in life where "the right answer" is nowhere to be found, and he thanked families for offering input during the planning process, which, Cameron said Friday, is ongoing as negotiations with Pittsfield Public Schools employee unions continue.

"Even as I and we thank you, I must also apologize to many of you, as this plan will be utterly unsatisfactory to many families," McCandless wrote. "We understand that this is an incredibly difficult time for many and that our actions and inactions may make the times even more difficult. We have not come up with 'The Right Answer,' I assure you, despite the efforts of dozens of staff, volunteers, and others. We have created a plan that works to meet the needs of everyone who is involved in the work of caring for and educating the community's children but will leave no one fully satisfied, or maybe even satisfied at all."

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The district anticipates vocational students, and groups of English language learners and special education students, will start with in-person learning sooner than others.

Bringing some members of those student groups back to classrooms as early as the first day of instruction Sept. 15 is "an aspiration" of the School Committee and the district's administration, subject to negotiations with employee unions, Cameron said.

Among the health and safety issues that were raised by the United Educators of Pittsfield toward the beginning of negotiations were the inoperable windows that exist in some classrooms and the need to establish protocols for when a child falls ill, President Melissa Campbell told The Eagle late last month.

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McCandless wrote that the district's "deepest wish is to provide you with a customized plan that works precisely for your family and your family's well being."

"We will not be able to live up to that wish, but we will continue to work tirelessly to make our current plan work as smoothly as possible for as many people as possible and to get to the point where we can serve all of the functions we need to serve, from child-care to socialization and recreation, from emotional wellness and self-care to our most important work of educating our children so they can reach their full potential as young people and as adults," he wrote.

The city's school district also expects to offer a full-year K-12 virtual school for families that do not wish to send their children back to classrooms at all during the upcoming school year, with registration details to come.

McCandless and Deputy Superintendent Joe Curtis will lead an online webinar for parents and guardians beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday to review "preliminary details" of resuming instruction in the fall. The webinar will be capped at 500 participants, but will be recorded and then posted to pittsfield.net.

To register for the webinar and read the full announcement, click here.

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


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