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Greenfield School Committee endorses ‘remote plus’ curriculum, sets opening date

Staff Writer
Published: 7/31/2020 3:32:18 PM

GREENFIELD – The Greenfield School Committee has endorsed a remote learning model as the preferred model for the start of the upcoming school year.

After some discussion, the committee voted Thursday night to accept the motion, which included a “remote-plus” plan for the 2020-2021 school year. This preliminary plan would be mainly remote but see some “in-person” services. According to Superintendent Jordana Harper, such services may include teaching students in instructional “pods” with social distance safety requirements in place.

“We were asked to make three plans, and so we did,” Harper said. “But in the process of creating a remote plan, it felt like the phrase ‘remote plan’ was inadequate to describe what we felt were essential components of in-person learning.”

While the committee voted in support of all three proposals submitted — including a plan for in-person learning, full remote learning and a hybrid model — members also were in favor of recommending the “remote plus” learning plan. This plan would be more in line with the hybrid model but the key difference, Harper said, would be that “instruction offered would not involve a screen.”

According to Harper, the submission of the plan is a “primary” one. Even though the committee voted for an option Thursday night, she said Jeffrey C. Riley, commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), has been clear that public health data is changing and it is possible it could change in the future. Harper is expected to present the plan to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by next week.

“This is a very initial submission of these three plans,” Harper said Thursday. “And so I do recommend submitting it as is, even if we change how we describe it in our comprehensive plan documents due Aug. 10.”

The School Committee also voted to adjust the school schedule to tentatively start classes Sept. 16 for grades 1 through 12, and Sept. 18 for kindergarten students. The committee authorized the superintendent to apply for a waiver from the state, required for districts who wish to start later than Sept. 16.

School Committee Chair Amy Proietti acknowledged some concerns regarding the state’s power in determining whether students would go back to in-person learning. She said local municipalities and school districts, along with their board or department of health, would be the ones actually making the decisions and putting forward approval of a plan.

“This is a public health issue, and school folks are not experts on public health and we need to work in concert,” Proietti said Thursday night. “And we’ve all seen that DESE is only kind of a poser when it comes to being an expert on any of this. Anyone who’s taken five minutes to just read a little bit of the guidelines can see that they don’t spend time in classrooms. They don’t spend time with children.”

School Committee member Katie Caron said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education cannot force districts to operate with a plan that is less safe than the district is comfortable with. However, the state would be able to pull back and shut down an in-person plan should there be a COVID-19 outbreak or related health emergency.

“They can take away what we have but they can’t force anything on us,” Caron said before the vote. “It’s an important distinction that I think we all need to be aware of. No matter what plan we start with on Sept. 1, it does not mean that is the plan we will be running on Oct. 31.”

As experts in terms of the local school system, Proietti said they need to work with local public health officials to ultimately make the decision on returning to schools, or not. She said some School Committee members have participated in phone calls with Commissioner Riley, who has said the state has the ability to make this decision.

“I would call that bluff any day of the week,” Proietti said Thursday. “There is no way that DESE is going to make a decision for any of these school districts, expect for the exception of those that are in receivership… And that is not us.”

Proietti said the School Committee’s submitted plans address the guidance from DESE “satisfactorily,” but they will take more time to see what changes there will be with the numbers and cases in Franklin County, sources of funding and other factors before moving forward with a final decision.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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