May 25, 2021 by Carol Britton Meyer
The school reopening committee met for the first time on May 12 and will meet again this Wednesday, with a number of unknowns to consider as the Hingham Public Schools and other local districts await updated Department of Elementary & Secondary guidance later in the summer regarding whether face masks will be required, what lunch service will look like, and other considerations.
At least a couple of things are definite, though -- there will be no physical distancing requirements for the 2021-22 school year under new state guidance. "This comes as really good news," Supt. of Schools Paul Austin told the School Committee last night.
Also, DESE will require a full return to school in the fall for all students. It does not appear that remote learning will be an option, according to Austin.
"It's tricky now to say exactly how we will reopen, but the commissioner of education made clear his intent to open the 2021-22 school year with a very much return to normal [approach] -- a full reopening as occurred in 2019. Hopefully it will continue that way for the full year," Austin said.
There are no plans to continue Foster North at St. Jerome's in Hingham for the 2021-2022 school year -- after consulting with Central Office administration and Foster Principal Beth Wilcox -- for a number of reasons, according to Austin.
First, there's the fact that physical distancing will no longer be required, which means there will be more learning space at Foster School than there was this year due to restrictions related to the pandemic.
Another major consideration, according to Austin, is the feeling among the reopening committee that despite the fact that some parents will be disappointed because they hoped Foster North would continue, "bringing the Foster School community back together in one building is a priority. We believe that we can safely manage the students in one building without physical distancing requirements."
The costs associated with the ongoing use of Foster North would be high and require an additional administrator, nurse, custodian, and support staff, which is another consideration.
"We recognize that Foster has had space and operational issues for many years," Austin continued. "Because of this, we are exploring the potential for portable units there to provide additional space when needed."
Director of Business & Support Services John Ferris is researching what that cost might be and the availability of these units. The School Committee will weigh into that discussion.
Austin also noted that free lunches will continue to be available to all schoolchildren in the new school year, regardless of their ability to pay.
With regard to vaccinations, Austin said he has applied through DESE to allow the HPS to hold onsite clinics due to the ready availability of the vaccine.
In a survey, 400 students expressed a desire to be vaccinated. If all goes as planned, there will be an early-morning vaccination clinic this week on a weekday morning at the middle school and at the high school that afternoon. More information will be available to parents soon.
The reopening committee minutes are posted on the HPS website.