Hudson eyes school reopening amid parents’ concerns and equipment delays

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By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Hudson – Buildings and Grounds Director Len Belli said he is yet to receive a crucial piece of sanitation equipment he ordered for the Hudson Public Schools three months ago.

With reopening of schools fast approaching, talk of that long-delayed shipment fell into an already jam-packed docket of concerns addressed at Hudson’s latest School Committee meeting July 28.

“It’s no surprise to anyone how daunting and how difficult this task is,” Superintendent Marco Rodrigues said. “A lot of things are happening….we continue to evolve.”

Like every school district in the state, Hudson administrators have spent weeks making sense of state and federal guidelines as they eye some form of reopening this fall.

Rodrigues said he favors a hybrid approach to learning, splitting students into four “cohorts.” Within that, students in cohort “A” would attend in-person, socially distanced classes on Monday and Tuesday before then switching to remote learning Thursday and Friday.

Cohort “B” students would run on an opposite schedule, leaving Wednesday as a transition day for teachers to run synchronous online activities and complete lesson plans.

Students with higher needs due to disability or English language learning status, among other things, would fall under cohort “C,” attending classes every weekday except for Wednesday.

Finally, students who opt out of the in-person portions of their hybrid education would fall into cohort “D” for full-time remote learning.

“It’s a way better model where we can have more appropriate social distancing in our classrooms,” Rodrigues said.

However, Rodrigues and school committee members heard extensive comments and concerns from a digital crowd of constituents at their virtual meeting.

“When in doubt, caution is the best starting point,” one speaker, Shannon Cleveland, said. “Maybe we should be working out the kinks in online learning before then moving on to in-person learning.”

Others agreed, recalling frustrations with online learning this spring and fearing the ramifications of an in-person reopening gone bad.

“There will be cases when the schools reopen,” parent Erin Mauro said. “It would be foolish to think there won’t be.”

Cheryl Langell, a representative of Hudson’s special education advisory group called perceived shortcomings in the town’s IEP accommodations under its reopening plans.

Others voiced budgetary concerns.

The district took a 2 percent budget cut at Town Meeting earlier this year. Just after completing their reopening discussion, though, the School Committee approved close to $100,000 in spending on PPE and items like plexiglass shielding for office spaces.

And new guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have cut bus capacity is by almost 70 percent, possibly necessitating more transportation expenses.

Then, there’s Len Belli and his custodial staff.

Belli said he anticipates electricity costs will spike this year due to an increased strain on HVAC systems that would need to run more frequently to ventilate schools.

Also, the delayed shipment of that aforementioned sanitation unit could incur higher personnel costs.

The district already has one such device. Able to clean a room via mist in as little as 30 seconds, according to Belli, that machine allows janitors to work both effectively and efficiently.

If their new unit does not arrive in time for the start of school, the current single machine could not sanitize every room in every school in town each night. Staff would manually clean surfaces.

“We can do it,” Belli said. “But it’s going to take manpower and hours.”