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Springfield Schools To Stay Remote Until April

a student learns remotely
SPS
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The largest public school district in western Massachusetts will remain fully remote through the winter. 

The Springfield School Committee voted 5-2 Thursday night to continue with remote-only education for the majority of students through the entire third marking period, which ends April 8th, 2021, while holding out the possibility that smaller groups including special education and vocational-technical students might return to school buildings sooner.

With COVID-19 cases soaring in Springfield and a post-December holiday surge feared, now is not the time for students and staff to go back to school, said School Committee member Denise Hurst.

"The reality is it is not safe," said Hurst. "I would not feel comfortable voting for us to return."

Prior to the vote, the committee was told that technology to improve the air ventilation in the school buildings won’t be fully installed until March.  Also, it is possible teachers could be receiving a COVID-19 vaccine by April under the state’s three-phase plan for distributing the vaccine.

The decision to remain fully remote until at least April 8th means that when schools do reopen it will have been more than 12 months since most of Springfield’s 26,000 students have set foot in a classroom.

School Committee member Peter Murphy, who along with Committee member Maria Perez, voted against the motion to remain fully remote for several more months, said being out of school for so long is a hardship on many.

"I worry very much about where are our homeless kids going to school," said Murphy.

Committee members urged the school administration to prioritize, if possible, an earlier phased-in return to in-person classes for groups that have struggled with remote education including special education students and English language learners.

They said vocational-technical students should also be considered a priority to return to school so they can demonstrate hands-on skills that are necessary to secure a certificate to work in certain trades.

Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said the administration will work with the committee to come up with an in-depth plan for students and staff to re-enter school buildings along with a concrete timetable that will afford ample advance notice to parents and staff.

"April 8th is really a solid recommendation," said Warwick.

Earlier this week, the School Committee hosted a virtual town hall to solicit feedback about a possible return to in-person schooling.  According to a summary of comments compiled by school officials, an overwhelming majority of parents and school staff expressed a preference for continuing with remote education only, while students were evenly divided between remaining fully remote or returning to school for at least a few days a week.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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