Students will return to classrooms Monday in Springfield, Massachusetts for the first time in more than a year. Officials held a news conference today to announce all the COVID-19 safety protocols that have been put in place.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno acknowledged there will be butterflies in the stomach come Monday morning -- likely more than usual for a first day back to school.
"It is an exciting time," Sarno said. "There is a little trepidation, but everybody is going to be safe and sound as we start to get our kids back in school."
Speaking at the Rebecca Johnson School, Sarno stressed the steps the city has taken to make the city’s 57 school buildings safe for students and staff to return for in-person instruction highlighted by a $1.4 million upgrade to the ventilation systems that he said exceed standards set by the state education department.
"No one is doing what the city of Springfield and the Springfield Public School system is doing in the state of Massachusetts," Sarno said.
Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick praised the district’s custodians who he said had deep cleaned and sanitized the schools.
"The schools are spotless," Warwick said.
Desks in classrooms are six-feet apart and each room has a hand sanitizing station. There are arrows on the hallway floors to mark the direction for foot traffic and posters with reminders to keep six-feet apart. Water fountains have been turned off and water bottle filling stations installed. Students won’t be using lockers.
Face masks are mandatory. There will be two daily breaks scheduled for students to go outside and remove their masks.
The school cafeterias will be closed. Breakfast and lunch will be served in the classrooms.
"There will be a whole protocol set up with hand sanitizer and cleaning the areas..to again keep everyone safe," Warwick said. "Obviously, the kids will have to take the masks off to eat. They will definately be six feet apart."
Even going to school will be different. Students will be spaced apart on school buses with the windows opened two inches.
Having secured a waiver from the state, Springfield elementary school students will return to classrooms on a hybrid schedule on April 5th and resume five day a week in person instruction on May 3rd.
" We'll get a chance to take a look at how things are working with smaller groups and ease them back into the process of coming back full and again making sure student safety is a priority," said Warwick.
Warwick said roughly half the parents have chosen the option to have their students continue with remote learning for the rest of the school year.
" We've done a lot with technology to help our teachers so they'll be teaching the hybrid students that come in and the students that are remote simultaneously using our technology," Warwick said.
Jessica Davila, a second grade teacher at Johnson, said her students have shown “grit” and “persistence” with remote learning.
"I am excited to formally meet and see all the smiling faces I have had the pleasure of teaching and getting to know remotely," said Davila.
Springfield will join the state’s COVID-19 pooled testing initiative for schools.
The Baker administration reported this week that pooled testing data collected from across the state found far less than a 1 percent positivity rate among students and staff. A statement announcing the test results said there is “extremely little evidence of in-school transmission of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.”