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Swampscott super asks to keep students home

SWAMPSCOTT — The teachers union and superintendent are in agreement: Bringing students back to school for fully in-person learning the first week of September is not safe. 

At Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting, Superintendent Pamela Angelakis outlined the three models for education this fall amidst the COVID-19 pandemic: an in-person learning model, a remote learning model, and a hybrid model. 

At the beginning of her presentation, Angelakis said 90 percent of school districts in the state are considering either an in-person or hybrid model for the fall. In Swampscott’s case, the fully in-person model is “not possible,” with building evaluations revealing social distancing cannot be properly maintained if all students come back to school at once, Angelakis said. 

Angelakis’ suggestion was to begin school on Sept. 16 with a remote-learning model before switching to a hybrid model on Oct. 26 as long as state guidelines remain the same. Angelakis said starting off with remote learning gives the district several weeks to assess other school districts that do start with in-person learning. It also gives more time for COVID-19 faculty and staff testing, further building assessments, and the creation of outdoor learning areas. 

By the paper’s deadline, the School Committee had not yet voted on a model. The intention was to vote Wednesday night. Look for a follow-up article including the School Committee’s decision in Friday’s paper and at www.itemlive.com

The remote learning model would have students take 20-minute classes via the video-conferencing service Zoom, with time in between classes for students to go over their work and ask questions with teachers. Wednesday would be a half day.

Angelakis’ suggested hybrid model, which the district could switch to on Oct. 26, breaks students into two groups. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, Group A would go to school for in-person learning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., before the school is cleaned from 11 a.m. to noon, and Group B would go to school from noon to 3 p.m. Students learn remotely outside these times. On Wednesdays, the school would receive a “deep cleaning” while students do assignments remotely. 

Leading up to the meeting, the local teachers union, Swampscott Education Association, penned a letter advocating for remote learning for the fall, at least to start the semester — teachers unions in Marblehead, Nahant, and Revere also signed the letter. 

More than 190 people attended the virtual School Committee meeting. 

“As a rule, whenever reopening takes place, the number of cases rises,” Swampscott teacher Tom Reid said. “Are we ready to have that in Swampscott?… Our answer is no.”

Sticking with a remote-learning model entirely, without switching to a hybrid or in-person model at any point in the fall, could prevent the district from being eligible for federal grants and funds, Angelakis said. 

Faculty and staff will be tested for COVID-19 before returning to school, Angelakis said. 

David McLellan can be reached at dmclellan@itemlive.com

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