Springfield Schools Eye April 12 For Return To Classrooms
A tentative plan has been developed for students in the largest public school district in western Massachusetts to return to the classroom for the first time since last March.
Under a plan being considered by the Springfield School Committee, a majority of the district’s 26,000 students would return to their school buildings starting on April 12th. But smaller groups including special education and vocational-technical students might return in March.
"Those openings would be subject to working with our health commissioner to make sure the COVID rates would make it safe to reopen at that juncture," said Superintendent of Springfield Schools Dan Warwick.
Details of the plan are still being refined and will need approval by the School Committee at an upcoming meeting. It is possible the committee will hold a virtual town hall to get feedback from parents before voting on the reopening plan, said Warwick.
The plan envisions a hybrid education model where students would be in classrooms with teachers 2-3 days per week and learning remotely the rest of the time. High need special education students would be in school five days per week.
" We are going to contact all the families and any parent that wants their child to stay remote for the rest of the year, we are going to honor that request," said Warwick.
A project to install air purifiers and other technology in each of the district’s 57 school buildings to improve ventilation should be completed in March.
"It is very exciting to see those upgrades going in," said Warwick.
Children enrolled in the Springfield Public Schools have not set foot in a classroom since last March.
The School Committee voted last August to start this academic year fully remote through the first marking period. In December, they voted to extend full remote learning through the third marking period.
"The reality is it is not safe," School Committee member Denise Hurst said at the time. "I would not feel comfortable voting for us to return."
At that December meeting, school committee members urged the 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.
Peter Murphy, one of two members of the committee who voted in December not to extend remote learning, said being out of classrooms for month-after-month has been a hardship for many.
"I worry very much about where our homeless kids are going to school," he said.
According to a report presented to the School Committee last month, daily attendance for remote classes in the first marking period averaged 91.5 percent – just slightly below the average attendance in classrooms last year.
The course failure rate in the first marking period was 10 percent – up from 8.7 percent a year ago.