Amherst Regional Council plans to bring students back to class, but sees high school students as a risk factor
The Amherst Regional School Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to implement in-person learning “for any student who wants it,” but it remains to be seen whether the high school will return to class this school year.
This dilemma of returning to the classroom in Grades 9 to 12 was discussed at length in meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
One of the biggest concerns, according to Superintendent Michael Morris, is that adolescents – unlike young children – may be more likely to be in contact with people who are positive for COVID-19, as their social circle tends to be larger. and geographically more diverse.
Morris said he consulted with Amherst’s health department on this issue, and so far, it’s his and their assessment of high school students may be a risk factor.
The three councils comprising the district, the Amherst School Committee, the Pelham School Committee and the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee all voted unanimously on Wednesday to begin the full-time in-person learning next month.
The Kindergarten to Grade 2 schedule is no later than April 5 and Grades 3 to 6 classes are no later than April 12.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Morris said it’s possible for Grades 7 and 8 to attend school in person two days a week next month using a hybrid model.
At Wednesday’s meeting, he said the high school administrative leadership team would attend a meeting with the three school boards next week.
He said the discussion could go a long way in resolving questions about the feasibility of returning high school students to the classroom.
Members of the area committee, which governs Grades 7 to 12 students in the district, littered Morris with questions about the high school issue.
The Peter Demling committee said that since the neighborhood requires six feet of social distancing inside buildings, there is built-in control to address concerns about the spread of the virus by teenagers.
He said the social distancing mandate had been in place in the district since before the start of the school year in September.
Demling said the district, at the time, made the decision to choose one meter eighty instead of the three feet that the state’s education department recommended – out of prudence.
The administration plans to survey parents of all grades to get a rough tally of how many children will return and how many teachers are needed; and at the same time, how many would be in remote mode.
Morris said the survey results would go a long way in putting the finishing touches on the number of students and staff in the buildings.
He said it made sense to let parents lead that decision-making – in terms of preference for distance education or on campus.
He also said that a significant number of faculty and students choose to stay in remote-only mode.
He said some teachers have medical exemptions allowing them to teach at home.
Committee member Bethany Seeger told Morris: “A lot of parents will want their kids to go to school.”
“It’s fair,” he replied.