The first day of school for the Essex Westford School District (EWSD) is slated for Aug. 27, but only half of its students will need to be loading up their backpacks the night before.
District Superintendent Beth Cobb sent a letter to families July 22 outlining initial decisions the district has made for the upcoming academic calendar. Among those is reopening the buildings to students, teachers, staff, and administration on a limited basis.
EWSD will be starting the school year in a similar fashion as 15 other districts in the area -- utilizing a hybrid model which will incorporate in-person instruction for two days of the week and remote learning, such as was used to end the most recent school year once school buildings were shut down by the governor’s order, for the other three weekdays.
“School is going to look and feel different this year, and we know all of our students will need support,” Cobb closed her letter with. “We are here for your children and for your family.”
Cobb is scheduled to be joined on a teleconference with the media by Franklin Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Lynn Cota at 2:30 p.m. Friday to share additional information and answer questions.
EWSD’s plan is to break students into two groups. One group will attend in-person schooling on Monday and Tuesday and finish the week remotely. The other group will participate in remote learning through Wednesday and then go to their respective building Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be used by school staffs as a time to deeply clean the facilities.
Cobb’s letter said that the groups would be “thoughtfully created” to best help families if possible -- including keeping children from a family in the same group to help with logistics of childcare. She also said that families will have the option to have their children solely participate in remote learning if they desire.
The letter noted how it is not lost on her or the district that the hybrid model will cause a substantial need for additional childcare -- especially as the state reopens and more parents will be back at work come late August compared to this past spring.
“I understand that many of you wanted five days of in-person instruction, at this point, we are unable to provide this and stay within the health guidelines,” stated Cobb’s message. “However, we are working with partner childcare providers to see how we can offer opportunities for those that need help during your child’s remote days. Our hope is to do this at a limited cost for you. Please know, we are making this a priority and hoping we can make it work.”
That understanding of hers could certainly be a result of the feedback EWSD has heard recently through a pair of requests for community input. The first was a Thoughtexchange sent to families that asked, “What’s on the top of your hearts and minds as we plan for a safe return to school?” That question received answers from 1,949 participants who totaled 2,582 thoughts. EWSD then sent a link for an online survey to families and asked questions along the lines of, “If all students and teachers are in school at the same time, are wearing masks, and other safety precautions are implemented, would you consider sending your student back to school five days a week?”
With a full, five-day in-person school week not being feasible, Cobb’s letter said the hybrid model was the next-desired option based on the results of the survey.
“We acknowledge the hardships that hybrid and full remote models may place on families, including our own faculty and staff,” it read. “Although it will be a challenge, we have heard from many of our families that the hybrid (blended) learning environment is preferred.
“By working together, openly communicating, and being creative and flexible, we can overcome these challenges together. That said, please understand there are many moving pieces to these plans, and we will need to adapt as the situation surrounding COVID-19 evolves and we receive further guidance from the [Agency of Education] and the Vermont Department of Health.”