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Superintendent Update: The action steps needed to bring SEBRSD students back full-time!
Superintendent Update: The action steps needed to bring SEBRSD students back full-time!
Paul Haughey
Friday, March 12, 2021

Good Evening Everyone,

I hope this Superintendent Update for March 2021 finds you and yours well.  It was one year ago today that the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents unanimously closed our schools as a Commonwealth.  Exactly one year ago today, I personally called each school committee member; met with union leadership units; reached out to our towns to let them know that we would be closing our doors for one to two weeks to "slow the curve" of Covid-19, which had entered our Commonwealth.  ...And one year ago I sent out an email and message to all parents/families of Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District, letting you know that we would be needing to take these actions as a precautionary set of steps to be proactive as opposed to reactive when it came to public safety.  

If you recall on that Friday, we scrambled to get our things together and even had to come back to the district some time later to collect our belongings because the Governor would declare a state of emergency and require all citizens within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts  to "stay home" and quarantine.  It is with this backdrop and these moments on my mind that I write this update to you today - exactly one year later - to let you know that the Board of Education has provided the Commissioner of Education with the authority needed to reopen our schools in Massachusetts.  

As I am sure you have heard in the news, the Governor, Board of Education, and the Commissioner of Education want our schoolhouse doors opened again.  So, here is what you need to know regarding our reopening efforts as a regional school district.

First, Vaccine Distribution

As outlined in our reopening plan, the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District in partnership with local, regional, and state officials will be providing our personnel with the Pfizer vaccine in the David Prouty High School’s McDonough Gymnasium on Monday, March 15th, 2021 (2:30pm – 5:00pm) and Friday, April 9th, 2021 (2:30pm – 5:00pm).  We cannot thank our local, regional, state and federal officials for working with us to make this opportunity happen.  As a result, all employees of the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District will be in-person and in district beginning Monday, April 5th, 2021.

School Operations: In-person or full remote learning

The Commissioner of Education recently received the authority from the Board of Education to mandate a return to school.  In a recently televised public meeting of the Board of Education, his target date for students in elementary grades was announced as April 5th, 2021.  In brief, Commissioner Riley was provided the authority to eliminate hybrid instruction as part of “time on learning.” This means the hours within the hybrid format will not count toward the mandatory hours required toward time on learning requirements, which are required to be fulfilled annually.  Waivers are an option but not preferred.  Further, if we remain in a hybrid model of learning, the remote hours will not count; and would be required to be made up through hours of in-person instruction on Saturdays, vacation weeks, and beyond our scheduled end date of June 17th until all hours are met.  Therefore, our parents, families, and students have two options available to them for the remainder of this school year: in-person learning or full remote learning.  As a result, the Spencer East Brookfield Regional School District has set the following targets for our return to in person learning…

• Elementary school phase (grades K-6): For elementary schools, hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count towards meeting the required student learning time hours as of Monday, April 5, 2021.  As a result, districts and schools are required to shift their learning model for elementary school grade levels to full-time, in-person instruction five days per week effective Monday, April 5, 2021.  The main offices of Wire Village School (Grades K-4); Knox Trail Middle School (Grades 5 & 6); and East Brookfield Elementary School (Grades K-6) will be reaching out to you shortly to ask about whether you want your child to attend school in-person or remain remote through the end of this year; and to inquire about transportation needs. 

• Middle & High school phase (grades 7-12): For our middle and high school, hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count towards meeting the required student learning time hours as of Wednesday, April 28, 2021.  As a result, our schools will be required to shift their learning model for middle school and high school grades 7-12 to full-time, in-person instruction five days per week, effective Monday, April 26, 2021.  The main offices of Knox Trail Middle School (Grades 7 & 8); and David Prouty High School (Grades 9-12) will be reaching out to you shortly to ask about whether you want your child to attend school in-person or remain remote through the end of this year; and to inquire about transportation needs. 

NOTE: As of this morning, I have asked all schools to begin making arrangements to return to full-time, in-person instruction.  In brief, everyone has been asked to begin preparations now.  

 Transportation

Transportation guidance related to bus ridership has changed to allow our students expanded ridership. We are in the process of beginning our outreach for students who need transportation should they and their parents/families decide to return their son or daughter to school in-person.  This work is essential so we are well prepared to make sure our routes are in compliance. As has been the case in the past, we are asking our parents/families who are able, to provide transportation so that those who truly need it, receive the service while we transition back to full in-person learning especially at the elementary levels.

Substitutes Needed

With the most recent news that we will need to have our elementary students return to school by April 5th, 2021, we are working diligently to put the word out that we need substitute teachers and assistance to adequately staff our school buildings, so that our operation remains safe and health/wellness-oriented.  Simply put, we need more substitute teachers to support us in our operations daily between now and the conclusion of this school year, so that we may keep our focus on safety, health, and wellness as well as teaching and learning with purpose…

 Spacing

The state guidance last summer was always to attempt to maintain a physical distance of 3-6 feet wherever possible. Many school districts, like ours opted for 6 feet. With the information in the preceding section, it most definitely will be closer to 3 feet when we return our elementary grades. However, until we have the exact numbers of how many students will be returning to in-person learning, we will not know what things specifically look like.  At present, we are planning for our classrooms to be setup at 3-4 feet.

Lunch

Our food services department has done a masterful job providing high quality meal services for breakfast and lunch throughout the pandemic; and our aim is to continue this outstanding service safely.  Our food service department is in the process of making arrangements so we may provide meals in classrooms and in large open spaces indoors as well as outdoors whenever possible.  We are taking these steps to assist with spacing concerns especially during lunches within each of our school buildings. These spacing measures will be taken to complement spaces within buildings while doing everything possible to maintain a 6 feet social distance when students are eating.

Safety Protocols

We will continue to employ all safety protocols in school and on buses (hand sanitization, masking (double masking if people desire), traffic patterns in buildings, cleaning, monitoring airflow as well as getting outside whenever possible). Obviously, we will need to adjust these protocols as needed.  However, we will not know until we have the exact responses from our parents/families who are interested in returning our students to in-person learning.

Before and/or After School Care

We appreciate the fact that before and after school care may be necessary for many of you. This, however, is a secondary concern right now as we look to get our schools operational. We will be sending out information once we collect “return to school data” to see if we can secure staff based on needs.  We are going to be looking closely at the best options possible for us to operate some form of before and/or after-school care once we reopen our doors to in person schooling five days per week.

Town Hall Meetings

Our work in the summer really positioned us well to open with little difficulty. We are using those same plans with some obvious areas we need to address due to more kids in buildings. We have every intention of speaking to each school in Town Halls to let them know where things are at once they are figured out. Again, much of that is predicated on who is coming back and who is going fully remote.

Returning to a “New Normal”

In-person learning is resuming as normal as possible prior to COVID - of course with all safety measures/protocols discussed above in effect.

My sincere hope is that the answers provided above tackle the bulk of the questions, comments, queries or concerns raised by the recent news from the Governor and Commissioner of Education Riley... As a district, we were already discussing a return for our students sometime this spring. Given the recent news announcements and the authority provided to the Commissioner of Education, our job now is to bring back all of our students to in-person learning.  On behalf of all of us within the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District, we have met and exceeded every mandate placed before us as a result of our collaborative efforts throughout the pandemic - safely.  The work to return our students to in-person learning is important and will take an entire month to get this undertaking done; and done right for our faculty, staff, and most of all, our students.

Please know that I appreciate the anxiety this poses to some of you. I have talked at length about this with our faculty and staff throughout the school year as parents/families may have wanted to pivot to hybrid from remote or remote back to hybrid. Together, and with clear lines of communication, we will get the move toward in-person learning done; and together, we will begin to realize the benefits of a return to a “new normal.” I also appreciate that for some returning in-person is not viable this year. You certainly have the right to opt for remote learning through the end of the school year; and we will continue to work with you every step of the way - to make that sure that our remote learning program remains as robust as possible while keeping students connected to the school community to the best of our abilities.

As always, I deeply appreciate your continued partnership and support of the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District.  I do believe that by following our safety protocols; families following safety protocols; and with warmer weather arriving any day now, we can do this safely for everyone within our learning community. 

Sincerely yours,

Paul S. Haughey, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools


@MASchoolsK12  @MASCSchoolComm