Northborough/Southborough schools weigh reopening options 

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By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Northborough/Southborough – As other school districts make coronavirus reopening decisions this summer, the Northborough/Southborough schools are still weighing their options.

More than four months after closing their doors as COVID-19 exploded in March, the region’s largest school district wants to bring students back to school. Indeed, though it’s still evaluating any number of variations on three main options.

“Our main goal is to provide our students, faculty, and staff educational environments that are safe while maximizing learning and addressing our students’ holistic needs,” Superintendent Gregory Martineau wrote in an update to families on July 10.

Options now include a return to full time and in person education with restrictions in place. Alongside that, students may also just continue learning remotely.

Finally, there’s a hybrid model closely mirroring frameworks already approved in neighboring towns like Westborough.

“Based on the current health data and research, the medical community supports the return of our students to in-person learning with appropriate health and safety guidelines in place,” Martineau said, indicating at least a hope to avoid that full remote learning option.

Martineau said in his July 10 update, and in a second statement a week later, that he expects the district to roll out a decision in the first week of August.

In the meantime, though, Martineau and other district staff have pored over survey results from at least two questionnaires they circulated through parent communities this month.

The surveys mainly gaged parent opinion on various reopening options.

“These data are essential as we continue to develop our District’s reopening plans,” Martineau said on July 17.

A broad reopening survey, for one, saw 59 percent of respondents say they would send their students to school if the district reopened full time.

Then asked about a hybrid model, which would allow more opportunities for sanitation of facilities, among other things, more than 72 percent of parents then said they would be comfortable.

Specifically zeroing in on that hybrid option, a majority of respondents said they wanted an “A/B daily” option, where schools would split their student bodies in two and have each A and B group attend in person classes every other day.

That, officials hope, would slow COVID-19 transmission while still getting students into a regular routine of going to school.

All this, though, remains contingent on bussing.

New guidelines from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reduced allowed bus capacity by as much at 70 percent, allowing just one student per bench on busses and mandating that windows stay open while driving to improve ventilation.

As some districts encourage students to walk to class, and others apply for waivers to change school start and end times to allow for more bus trips, many have said transportation rules may be gatekeepers to reopening plans.

“In developing this guidance, the health and safety of students and staff were our top priorities,” stated Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley wrote in a letter to superintendents explaining all this according to the Boston Globe.