School committee approves next step in return to in-person learning, subject to HEA ratification

February 23, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer

The school committee last night unanimously approved during a remote meeting the school administration’s proposal for all non-remote K-5 students to return to school full-time (five days a week) on or before March 15, with students in grades 1 to 5 attending full days — with physical distancing in place.

This change and others approved by the committee last night as part of the next reopening phase are subject to ratification by the Hingham Education Association (teachers’ union).

School committee member Liza O’Reilly, who is part of the negotiations committee, confirmed school officials planned to meet with the HEA today, Tuesday, to further discuss the reopening plan.

A survey has been sent to families asking them to commit to in-person or remote learning to limit enrollment/classroom changes between in-person and remote learning students.

The proposal also calls for middle school students to attend in-person classes on alternating Wednesdays, effective on or before March 17.

Hingham Public Schools administration proposes that the hybrid learning model continue at the secondary level -- the middle and high schools -- but will be reviewed weekly for potential expansion.

Middle School Principal Derek Smith and High School Principal Rick Swanson have established an advisory committee consisting of their respective school councils, with the addition of a health sector professional who will make recommendations to each principal for consideration of advancing in-person learning.

"We propose to expand in-person learning for students in grades 6-12 with an emphasis on increasing class sizes while maintaining the 6-foot physical spacing requirements," Austin said.

Some parents expressed concern that students at the Middle and High School levels should also be prioritized now for a return to full-time, in-person learning.

The synchronous learning model provides students with "a strong, engaging program," he noted. "Hingham exceeds Department of Elementary & Secondary Education requirements for SLT (Student Learning Time) and engagement compared to other districts. This provides us time to determine the appropriate plan."

Now is the time to make the 1-5 change, Austin said, Foster North -- located at St. Jerome's in Weymouth -- is open and operating and COVID-19 testing is available for staff and teachers.

In addition, Hingham has remained in the medium-risk COVID-19 zone for several weeks, and nearly all reported COVID-19 cases have originated outside of the school setting.

Austin also acknowledged that regardless of the quality of HPS' online programming, “nothing can replicate in-person learning for our students, particularly our youngest learners in grades K-5," Austin stated in his presentation.  "Isolation from peers and educators impacts the social and emotional well-being of both students and educators. . . the longer we remain in hybrid, the greater the risk for academic regression, particularly in our very young learners.”

Currently all Hingham Public Schools students except those who are fully engaged in remote learning participate in a hybrid model (a combination of in-person and remote learning).

Asst. Supt. Dr. LaBillois confirmed for parents that if a student chooses full in-person learning vs. remote learning but needs to quarantine due to Covid-19, the student would be provided a learning packet with assignments similar to what they would receive for an extended medical leave.

The proposal for increasing in-person learning is posted on the website.


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