Mahar School Committee votes for hybrid reopening model: Chair says this may change

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional School RECORDER STAFF/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/5/2020 4:05:53 PM

ORANGE — The Mahar School Committee voted Tuesday in favor of a hybrid model of reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the chairman said “nothing is written in stone right now.”

School committees across the state were required to submit approved reopening plans to state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by Aug. 10, though committees are allowed to change course, Chairman Peter Cross explained. The Mahar committee opted 6 to 1 for the hybrid model, with member Patrick Davis being the lone dissenting vote — though it was clear there was no perfect answer.

“Some of us didn’t sleep that well last night, and it wasn’t entirely the storm,” Cross said Wednesday morning. “I’m conflicted about it. It’s a balancing act.”

Cross also said his committee is scheduled to meet with teachers for a negotiation session Tuesday and that changes could be made.

There were three potential reopening strategies — fully remote learning, in-person education, and a hybrid of the two. Remote learning would involve students learning electronically from home as they did for the end of the past academic year. The so-called “all-in model” would send all students back to their brick-and-mortar school buildings, with mandatory social distancing and mask-wearing during an abbreviated school day. The hybrid model means students would be split into two clusters — the A Group, which would attend school Mondays and Tuesdays and use remote learning the rest of the week, and the B Group, which would go to school Thursdays and Fridays and use remote learning the other three days.

New Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski previously explained the school buildings would be without students on Wednesdays so custodians could give the facilities a “deep clean.” The buildings would also be cleaned regularly, including as students move from room to room.

After the meeting, Teahan-Zielinski said it was impossible to make everyone happy.

“It is clear that everyone knows the importance of having students in front of teachers. It is also equally clear that we must ensure that our students and teachers are safe during this pandemic. Tonight’s decision was difficult for the School Committee — there are multiple positions about how schools should reopen in the fall from families as well as staff,” she said in an emailed statement. “The School Committee voted to reopen with a hybrid model (face to face with remote), understanding that they will reexamine the model within 30 days of implementation or sooner based on guidance from our local Boards of Health, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Governor’s Office.”

English teacher Ian Bashaw, Mahar’s union president, read a statement at Tuesday’s meeting, held via Google Meet.

“The members of the Mahar Teachers Association want nothing more than to return to our classrooms and teach our students. However, there are many things that need to be put in place before we can ensure that a return to any in person learning is the safest option for students, families, and staff. Testing needs to be readily available with quick results,” he read. “At this point, there are too many unanswered questions for the school to welcome students back safely. This is why the Mahar Teachers Association endorses a robust remote learning model as the safest option for all students, families and staff at this time.”

Contacted Wednesday morning, Bashaw said the teachers association made it clear what the educators were looking for, but he remains optimistic a compromise can be reached.

“I do have high hopes that we will come to an agreement that is beneficial to everyone,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.”

Bashaw also stressed that he understands “where everyone is coming from” and there are no great answers right now.

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

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