The Falmouth School Board has approved plans for full in-person instruction for the duration of the school year for all students except high school seniors, starting at the elementary schools next month.

Falmouth School Committee Vice Chairperson Nicole Bezanson said her approval of the plans was based on what was best for students. Screenshot / FCTV

The plan to phase in the full return to school by individual school is contingent on the number of COVID-19 cases and the state of the pandemic.

The elementary school should be ready to end its current hybrid instruction by the end of April and the middle school in early to mid-May. The high school will resume all in-person classes in early June after the seniors graduate and AP tests have been completed.

Most parents spoke in favor of the plans during a four-hour public comment period prior to the board’s approval of the plan March 15, saying the hybrid system has detriments to mental health and provides no accountability for students.

“Our children have suffered the most in terms of our society’s failure to place emphasis on the importance of school for their social and emotional development for their mental health,” parent and pediatrician Jennifer James said.

Keri Mayo, the mother of an eighth-grader and tenth-grader, said “despite the opinion of teachers, the hybrid model doesn’t work.”

Under the hybrid model, students spend half the week at the school and the other half working remotely, with Wednesday as a remote day for all students.

James Cahan was the only School Committee member to vote against the reopening plan. Screen shot / FCTV

Some parents spoke against reinstating full in-person instruction with only weeks remaining in the school year, preferring a complete reopening in the fall. Jen Haymond, a parent and pediatrician, said she was concerned about the long-term, uncertain impacts of the coronavirus.

“As a pediatrician, I am aware of the mental health aspects this has had, but I am also aware of the impact of this virus,” Jen Haymond said. “We need to stop talking about just the death rate, there are significant morbidity and long-term issues, unlike typical viruses.”

The safety precautions taken are the reason why “we are not having the same issues as other cities,” Haymond said, “not just because we aren’t densely populated.”

Specific details of the plan are still being worked out. Principals said they are working on arranging dismissal and arrival times to be COVID friendly, rearranging classes while trying to keep the same students and teachers around each other, and finding additional outdoor and indoor space to hold classes and lunch.

“In the days immediately prior to opening one or more of our schools, our teachers will have to adapt classroom arrangements to make sure they’ll work for students, prepare the new class and school-wide protocols for student movements interactions and hand hygiene,” said Director of Learning Gretchen McNulty. “Many of our teachers will need to take steps to align instruction for merged cohorts and we also need to do major rescheduling for all special ed, RTI and ELL.”

School officials also are working on surveys for families to find out how many will want to stay fully remote and to gauge other needs or obstacles like transportation and the potential need for additional bus routes.

Superintendent Geoff Bruno said the plans will “set us up for an easier transition for next fall.”

“It won’t look the same as pre-COVID, we need to maintain safety and we do need to look at the impact,” Bruno said. “We are cautiously optimistic in the plan we are presenting.”

He cautioned, however, that an onset of positive cases would set the plans back.

School Board member James Cahan cast the only dissenting vote against the reopening plan, saying he was concerned about the potential for outbreaks and having to go remote again.

“There is a real concern of kids getting affected by a quarantine issue that makes teaching (impossible),” Cahan said at the meeting.

Other board members said they felt it was best for the students.

“In my mind, as I try to keep emotion from the logically appropriate path, is that research says kids need to be in school and the national CDC says if you can keep them in school under those guidelines that’s what you should do,” member Nicole Bezanson said. “We asked our administrative team ‘can you do this?’ They said yes. That’s where I have to come down.”

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