Shrewsbury public schools’ issues survey to families on school reopening

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Decision will be made in early August

By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – Dr. Joseph Sawyer, superintendent of Shrewsbury Public Schools, addressed the School Committee July 15 and provided information on reopening in the fall based on new guidance from the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

It stated: “Based on the current public health data and COVID-19 trends in Massachusetts, the medical community supports the return of Massachusetts students to in-person learning, with appropriate health and safety guidelines in place.”

“We do have plans regarding three different modes whether that is full in-person learning with three-foot social distancing, a hybrid model where students will have an alternating schedule or full remote learning,” Sawyer stated. 

He said that plans need to be submitted to the department by July 31.

“We are going to need to make a decision for our school district in early August,” Sawyer continued. “The health and well being of students, families and staff remains our first priority, of course.”

He noted that of the 325 COVID-19 cases reported to date in Shrewsbury that only 3 percent were people under the age of 19.

Sawyer reported that a survey was sent to all families in the school district July 14. Within the first 24 hours, 3,669 responses were received which were evenly distributed among all grade levels.

“We had some interesting findings so far… We have some key data points regarding families’ willingness to have their child returning to school,” Sawyer remarked.

Overall, 50 percent of respondents said their children would return for in-person learning; 25 percent was not comfortable; and 25 percent was undecided. The numbers were slightly higher for high school and slightly lower for elementary.

The numbers skewed higher for an alternating hybrid schedule with fewer students in the school at a time. 

Sawyer explained that the survey also gathered input relevant to whether families would register for school bus transportation. Roughly 25 percent said they would use bus transportation as long as masks were worn; 19 percent said they would if the number of students on the buses were reduced; 40 percent said they would not; and 16 percent were not sure.

“Interestingly, 62 percent of students whose families indicated would stop riding the bus would be driven to school instead and that would create some operational challenges for us in terms of already having high levels of traffic at some of our schools with normal bus ridership,” he said.

Regarding meals, 55 percent would bring their lunch from home; 26 percent would occasionally purchase a lunch; and only 14 percent would regularly purchase their lunch at school. 

“We did ask a couple of questions about extended school care and athletics,” Sawyer added. “We will survey those populations more specifically.”  

Committee member Lynsey Heffernan asked Sawyer for some clarification around the requirement from the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education relevant to school districts providing multiple options for families.

“Essentially the message that we are getting is that families, for whatever reason can choose whether to send their kids to school or keep them learning remotely,” Sawyer responded. “And the answer from the department was that parents and caregivers can choose to send them to in-person school or keep them home learning remotely… In school attendance is highly encouraged.”