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Tiverton back-to-school plan — 'All-in' opening for youngest students, grades 5 and 9

Offers starting mix of in-school and hybrid; nearly 300 opt for distance learning

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 9/9/20

TIVERTON — The Tiverton School Committee gave its unanimous blessing Wednesday to the mixed hybrid and ‘all-in’ plan with which students will be sent back to school on Monday, Sept. …

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Tiverton back-to-school plan — 'All-in' opening for youngest students, grades 5 and 9

Offers starting mix of in-school and hybrid; nearly 300 opt for distance learning

Posted

TIVERTON — The Tiverton School Committee gave its unanimous blessing Wednesday to the mixed hybrid and ‘all-in’ plan with which students will be sent back to school on Monday, Sept. 14

Presented by Superintendent of Schools Peter Sanchioni, the plan differs from one grade to the next. But in each case, the superintendent said, the goal is to get all students back into school as soon as possible.

“If we move through September with no issues, I will bring everyone back on Monday, October 5,” the superintendent said.

Committee member Deborah Pallasch called that “pretty aggressive … I hope everything goes perfectly but I wouldn’t rush us.”

Diane Farnworth said she is hesitant to go to full in-school before the mid-October date suggested by the governor — “take more time to make sure to get it right.”

“We’re not going to rush this,” Dr. Sanchioni said, but “if everything is going well is something to consider.”

The plan recommended by the superintendent and backed by the committee brings students back in he following ways:

• Kindergarten and Grade 1 — All in

• Grades 2-4 — Hybrid (two alternating groups … in for one week, distance learning for a week). Grades will be divided alphabetically by last name — likely A-L and M-Z

• Grade 5 — All in

• Grades 6-8 — Hybrid (two alternating groups … in for one week, distance learning for a week).

• Grade 9 — All in

• Grades 10-12 — Hybrid (two alternating groups … in for one week, distance learning for a week).

This plan, Dr. Sanchioni said, provides the youngest students with the full in-school learning that they need to get them started, and also helps introduce grades 5 and 9 to the middle and high school experiences respectively.

“I’m confident that we can open in this model.”

The mix of in-school and remote learning will be “a new phenomenon for us  — people are going to have to be patient with us.”

Each classroom in which remote students will be among the participants will be equipped with a projector and camera that will be trained on the teacher, not the students — he said the middle school is the first to have been so-equipped. In this way, the teacher will be addressing both those in the room and those at home at the same time. 

He acknowledged that this will be a new experience for teachers and there will be a certain amount of figuring things out on the fly.

As for the remote learners, “A key point — I keep hearing people say they’re not in school. That’s not true. We are in distance learning, we’re in school, we’re going to follow a schedule, we expect your child to log in at home and be part of that class, to listen to the teacher, to do the assignment. It’s not a week off, it’s a week of learning.”

Start with safety

He is confident in the plan, Supt. Sanchioni said, because the district and its principals have taken every recommended step and then some to protect the safety of students and their teachers. He an others congratulated all involved in the preparation — principals, teachers, staff, union …

When they did a walk-through with state officials last week, he said a Department of Health representative said, “I have not seen a district better prepared.”

Those safety steps, shown on a graphic titled, “Let’s start with safety,” included:

• Every student and staff member will be required to fill out a daily screening form every morning.

• Every school has temporal screening thermometers for temperature checks.

• Every school is equipped with a substantial supply of personal protective gear.

• Masks will be required for grades 2 through 12, and are strongly suggested for grades K-1. Face shields will also be available. Schools will operate on a “silent classroom=safer classroom” basis. It is safer, they’ve been advised, to have a mask off and not talk than to wear a mask and talk. For students needing to take a mask off, marked 8x8 spaces will be scattered about with an X in the middle where a student can stand without a mask and others should not enter.

• Large plastic ‘sneeze guards’ will be installed in all offices. 

• The Tiverton fire marshal has approved a ‘door open policy’ that allows interior doors to be kept open for improved air flow (if teachers are comfortable with that).

• HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters have been installed in ventilation systems in some schools.

• Air purifiers have been installed in all rooms without windows.

• Substitute teachers — “We are not going to employ a cadre of substitutes as we have in the past. We don’t want a lot of foreign people coming into ur buildings. Instead, three full-time substitutes are being hired, one each for the high school, middle school and elementary grades. Regular teachers will assist with coverage beyond that.

• Bathrooms will receive four cleanings per day.

• Hand sanitizer and disinfectant will be in every classroom.

• Visitors will be limited, parent-teacher conferences will be by Google Meet.

ª Classroom and lunch layouts are being changed with assigned seats, different schedules.

Questions, concerns

Teacher union head Amy Mullen asked how teachers and students who work in small groups, often in small windowless rooms, can be kept safe.

The superintendent replied that such groups are typically two students to one teacher; he also said library space can be used and that other spaces can be found.

Ms. Mullen also wanted to know how the work done by distance learners will be assessed.

“I think that is going to be teacher dependent,” the superintendent said. We are going to have to put a lot of faith in the integrity of the student. “Surely it’s going to be a challenge but we’ll have to work our way through it.”

Ms. Farnworth asked how classrooms, especially those visited by changing groups of students, will be kept clean.

Surfaces will be sprayed with fast-evaporating disinfectant after every student group leaves, she was told. Time between classes will be lengthened to enable cleaning time and to provide students more time to navigate one-way hallway patterns.

What if families that had opted for remote learning see that things are going well in school and decide they want their children to attend school and take the bus after all, Ms. Pallasch asked. Won’t that increase crowding and make distancing more difficult? Some school districts, she said, are taking a hard line on that.

So far, the superintendent said, it seems that it will be possible to keep each bus below a 35-passenger safe maximum. Parents who change their mind will be notified of efforts to keep bus ridership within 35 students.

As for opting back to in-school, “If parents want to send their children back, that’s fine. At some point, we was them back.”

Supt. Sanchioni said that the families of a total of 294 children out of 1,572 have opted for remote learning to start the school year.

Some sports may be allowed but details for that are still being worked out, another questioner was told.

But all after-school activities “except detention” will not be held for the time being.

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