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Portsmouth schools to keep hybrid model for grades 7-12

Expanding in-person instruction not safe at this time, superintendent says

By Kristen Ray
Posted 10/14/20

PORTSMOUTH — Although the district has the support of its families to transition students to a full in-person learning model, Superintendent Tom Kenworthy told the School Committee Tuesday …

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Please support local news coverage –

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Portsmouth schools to keep hybrid model for grades 7-12

Expanding in-person instruction not safe at this time, superintendent says

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Although the district has the support of its families to transition students to a full in-person learning model, Superintendent Tom Kenworthy told the School Committee Tuesday night that Portsmouth intends to stick with a hybrid approach for grades 7 to 12 at this time. 

Currently, students in those grades are reporting to class for live, in-person instruction just twice a week. But according to a recent survey put out by the district, most families — 78 percent — would rather have them following the same model for students in grades 6 and below: fully in-person, every day of the week. 

“They want their students to be back, full in-person,” Mr. Kenworthy said.

Their reasons varied. Some said their children learned better in the classroom than at home; others believed it improved students’ social emotional health. And unlike other districts, as of Tuesday Portsmouth still did not have a single positive case in its school community.

But because school staff would be impacted by the decision, the district wasn’t ready to increase in-person learning just yet. 

“Not that our staff doesn’t want to be able to welcome students in these grade spans to more in person instruction … our challenges are really around health and safety,” Mr. Kenworthy said.

Six feet needed

The biggest issue, Mr. Kenworthy said, would be maintaining six feet of space between people. By alternating the days that students are in the building, they can take advantage of the double classrooms in the middle school and space students out at the high school. That would all be lost if everyone was brought back full time, he said.

“That (six feet of space) has really become the standard of what is considered safe,” Mr. Kenworthy said. 

While he could not “comfortably” recommend expanding in-person instruction for grades 7 to 12 at this time, the district is still working toward making that happen in the future, Mr. Kenworthy said. The district is buying fans and air purifiers, and looking into ways to bring back more vulnerable populations for the next quarter, starting Nov. 19. 

Mr. Kenworthy said the district may reevaluate increasing in-person learning at for the start of the second semester in February.

Advocating for return

Committee member Allen Shers praised the work administrators have done so far, but he said he didn’t see why students could not return to the classroom full-time. 

The high school was technically big enough, he argued, though it would require teachers to rethink how they would deliver their instruction. Plus, he said, Portsmouth was currently COVID-19-free in its school system. 

“What are you going to say, ‘I will refuse to go out and cross the street because I may get hit by a car?’” he said. 

Committee Chair Emily Copeland said while Mr. Shers made some interesting points, it was more complicated than a matter of space in the schools; the district would also need to make sure every room was properly equipped as a classroom. 

“It is a tough nut to crack, in terms of balancing risk and reward with bringing kids back,” she said. “But I know it’s not something we’re just sitting back and saying, ‘This is it for the rest of the year.’”

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