School News: Hybrid Model Expected to Start Monday; Foster School Funding Update

Photo by Joshua Ross Photography
Photo by Joshua Ross Photography
September 22, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer

Following eight days of remote learning for most students, the Hingham Public Schools reopening plan will move to Phase II -- the hybrid model, which is a combination of remote and in-person learning -- next Monday, Sept. 28, barring unforeseen circumstances, Supt. of Schools Paul Austin told the School Committee last night during a remote meeting.

Austin explained "why eight days" -- to ensure that the remote model works in the event that COVID-19 metrics cause a return to fully-remote learning at any time during the school year.

In the meantime, the six school principals reported a successful first four days, starting last Wednesday, Sept. 16. Students, teachers, and staff were glad to start getting back into the school groove.

Although classes will be fully remote until next Monday for most students, small-group in-person meet and greets gave students a chance to meet their teachers and some of their fellow classmates and to see their socially-distanced classrooms, decorated with bright colors that gave a welcoming feel.

"It was good to see students back in the building and to see familiar faces, even under face masks," Foster School Principal Beth Wilcox said.

Austin expressed appreciation to all those involved with the reopening plans. "An incredible amount of labor has gone into preparing for this event over the last several months," he said. "We're in the yellow {moderate-risk] COVID-19 zone, with 16 new cases over the past fourteen days [reported by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health last Wednesday].

"It's incredibly important that we go through the different phases in a safe manner. I don't control the health metrics," he said. "If a COVID-19 outbreak were to occur, we would have to act accordingly, but I don't anticipate that and hope we will be able to get in[to] the schools and keep moving."

Austin will provide a health metrics update at the Oct. 19 School Committee meeting "about how Phase II is going and what Phase III will look like," he said.

Remote learning now more 'robust'

Much of the feedback Austin has received indicates that parents consider remote learning to be far different and much improved from when it was first implemented when the schools were forced to close last March.

"At the same time, we're hearing that the new remote learning plan is a little too 'robust, and that there's a concern about the need for less screen time," he said.

Under the hybrid plan, student instruction alternates between in-person and remote learning by half weeks (attending school -- with social distancing and other protocols in place -- on either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday), with remote instruction on Wednesdays and any other days that students are not participating in in-person learning.  Some students are doing remote-only learning.

In other school news:

* The School Committee and Selectmen Chair Mary Power, who participated in the meeting, ratified a Memorandum of Agreement with Hingham Education Association Unit B [paraeducators union] for a successor contract for the 2020-2023 school year.

School Committee member Liza O'Reilly -- who was involved in the negotiations -- explained that the new three-year agreement calls for an increase in sick leave, the length of which is determined by their years of service, an updated parental leave agreement, and the stipulation that HPS paraeducators will be notified at the end of each school year by letter offering a reasonable assurance that they will be hired again for the next year 'based on students' needs," according to Reilly. They were also awarded a two percent salary increase each year.

* A number of school officials met with representatives of the Massachusetts School Building Authority to discuss Foster School. School officials are in the process of seeking partial funding from the Authority for a major renovation or a new school. In the works is an enrollment study, maintenance plan, and other required information. The MSBA isn't expected to decide which projects to accept into the program until around July 2022.

If Foster is accepted, Town Meeting will be asked to approve the project, including the town's share of the funding.  Watch for further details.

* A parent asked what the protocol is if a member of a student's family is awaiting COVID-19 test results. "It might be a good idea to keep the student home," he said.

Austin said while that wasn't a "bad recommendation" and "there's nothing wrong with asking a parent to do that, we can't force them to."

At the same time, Austin said, "We would talk about our concerns with the Health Department because we want to keep COVID-19 out of our schools.  The Centers for Disease Control is not clear. We will continue to talk about it." Austin is in contact with the Health Department on a daily basis. "We could switch back to remote learning quickly if necessary," he said.

* The School Committee approved 55 homeschool applications in a continuation of a conversation at the last committee meeting about the same applications.

* The Committee went into executive session to discuss strategy related to collective bargaining negotiations with HEA Unit A and B for the Memorandum of Agreement for the Reopening of Schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

They also planned to discuss strategy related to collective bargaining negotiations for 2020-2023 agreements with administrators, custodian and maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, transportation workers, and administrative assistants.


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