Mahar reopening now fully remote for at least first 30 days

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2020 4:16:06 PM

ORANGE — The principal of Ralph C. Mahar Regional School recently took to the district’s website to explain the school’s reopening plan and lay out expectations, after the Mahar School Committee reconsidered a fully remote start over its originally approved hybrid learning plan.

Principal Scott Hemlin detailed the safety precautions that will be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and posted a schedule. The School Committee voted to change course from a previous vote and start the school year remotely for at least 30 days. Chair Peter Cross said the situation will be assessed at that point and then every 30 days thereafter.

The online update states that an orientation week for students in grades 7 through 12 will be held through Friday. Each student will attend one of the four orientation days. Doors will open at 7:38 a.m. each day and students will be dismissed at 11 a.m.

The orientation week is meant to provide students with the opportunity to meet their teachers, learn to access Google Classroom, learn expectations for each class and receive classroom materials. According to the update, social distancing and masks will be required. Students with school-assigned Chromebook laptops must bring them, along with the charger. Students who do not have a school-assigned Chromebook will receive one on their orientation day.

Students are asked to bring a backpack to carry home textbooks and other school materials, and parents and guardians are asked to check the PowerSchool Parent Portal to ensure the school has accurate contact information for every Mahar student.

“It is also important that you and your child contact his or her teachers in order to ensure you have all the proper information in preparation for instructional classes” beginning Sept. 14, Hemlin writes in the update.

Hemlin also listed daily expectations for students, who are required to show up on time to each class and to call the school to report an absence. Students will not be allowed to join live classroom sessions from their beds, and must be appropriately dressed, including a shirt. Students are not required to have their computer’s camera on; however, they may need to present classwork on camera.

Also, students must complete daily exit tickets that teachers will use in conjunction with submitted assignments to plan for support. Students will indicate on the exit tickets if they have questions about a class or assignment.

Assignments will be graded, and the grading policy outlined in the student handbook, which can be found at, will apply. Pass/fail assignments will not be given, unlike in the spring.

Teachers will be allowed to release students to independent work during the class period for reading, completing math problems, research and other tasks. The teacher will remain live during the entire period to assist students needing additional support or to work one-on-one with students or in small groups.

“Students can anticipate that approximately half of a scheduled block will be virtual. ... The second half of the block will be in follow-up work based on the day’s instruction,” Hemlin’s update states, adding that this is subject to change. At times, students might be in attendance virtually for a longer or shorter period of time based on the topic and the curriculum’s sequence. For example, introducing a topic may require more time virtually and unit ends may require students to work more independently.

Students having difficulty communicating with their teachers should contact their guidance counselor for additional information and support at 978-544-2542 and ask for student services.

Cross said Mahar’s convocation was held last Thursday to welcome students.

“We’re just going to try to make it as positive as possible for as many students as possible,” he said of remote learning. “We’ll just have to see how things go.”

Cross said special needs students will be allowed in the building for in-person instruction if their parents or guardians decide to send them.

He also said the School Committee’s decision to go remote is unpopular in some circles, and he has received two letters expressing opposition. He said the remote model was supported by the teachers.

“They were feeling like (the possibility of an in-person model or a hybrid model) was raising their anxiety and may be unsafe,” Cross said.

The Mahar School Committee had initially voted 6-1 for a hybrid model in early August, but Cross said at the time that “nothing is written in stone right now.”

Tricia Belloli, the mother of Natalie Belloli, a Mahar junior, has said she supports a hybrid model because of the low rates of COVID-19 locally. She said a survey indicated 61 percent of Mahar parents support a hybrid reopening model.

Reach Domenic Poli at or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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