Northborough/Southborough administrators emphasize need for flexibility in school reopening

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School committee officially delays start of school year

By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer

Northborough/Southborough – School administrators shed new light on their coronavirus reopening plans at a School Committee meeting Aug. 5, emphasizing a need for flexibility in the framework the district ultimately adopts.

Presenting a 35-page summary of their work, members of the school reopening advisory panel spoke alongside Superintendent Greg Martineau. Together, they answered questions for the majority of a more than four-hour meeting before seeking approval to send their summary to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for review.

“It’s a rapidly evolving situation,” Martineau said in introducing his plan. “What we know now will mostly likely be different from what we know a week from now or a month from now. It is important to be agile.”

Aiding in that agility, Martineau notes, will be new simplification of online learning tools to buttress either hybrid or full remote learning when school starts next month.

High school and middle school students will all see their classes organized through the website, Canvas. Younger students, meanwhile, will operate through Google Classroom.

“No matter what course the high schooler or middle schooler is taking, there will be some structure that they can really rely on,” Martineau said.

This embrace of Canvas and Google Classroom comes in direct response to parent feedback on the chaotic remote learning of this past spring.

As the district sought to quickly pivot after the coronavirus shutdown, they set up their own online system. That, though, relied heavily on third-party logins and separate websites that left parents and students confused, administrators acknowledged.

Further responding to concerns like that, administrators also announced their district’s plans for 1:1 technology availability to help should COVID-19 data suddenly show a need to shut down schools again.

“We want to move seamlessly in and out of models,” Martineau said. “So we want students to have the technology that they need to be able to work from home.”

As they addressed their three reopening models – full in person, hybrid, and full remote – administrators did offer new information on the hybrid mode that many districts in the region will be using in the fall.

They relayed new guidelines from the state clarifying how many days per week special education students would attend school in person.

Special education students who spend less than two hours per week receiving specialized services would be in school alongside the rest of the student body, following the typical schedule of getting two days of in person learning per week. Those with more than two hours per week of specialized services would get an extra half day of in-person teaching.

Students who spend more than 25 percent of a typical week receiving such services would come to school for four days and those who spend more than 75 percent in specialized services would stay in the classroom for five days per week.

“In all four of these scenarios, parents would receive notification of any changes in instruction,” Director of Student Support Services Marie Alan said.

With the future remaining tenuous, the school committee also voted to delay the start of the school year to Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Thanks to an exemption for all Massachusetts districts, schools will only need to be in session for 170 days this year, instead of the typical 180.

Northborough/Southborough teachers will come into work as planned starting Monday, Aug. 31, allowing them 11 days of prep time.

“This is welcome in the sense that we could use this time to really make sure that we’re prepared to launch the school year for our students,” Martineau said.

To see the Northborough/Southborough schools’ full coronavirus reopening plan, visit www.nsboro.k12.ma.us