Mahar welcomes back students for hybrid learning in Orange

  • Students leave school on Tuesday at noon at the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange, which is now operating under a hybrid model. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • A student works on a calculation in Jill Ninteau’s math class at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange on Tuesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Students work in Barbara Schulze’s physical science class at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange on Tuesday. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Scott Hemlin, principal at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 1/26/2021 6:17:52 PM

ORANGE — Ralph C. Mahar Regional School has entered its first full week of hybrid learning following a Jan. 14 vote of the School Committee approving the limited return to school.

The hybrid model took effect Thursday, with half the students attending in-building classes on Thursdays and Fridays and the other 150 going into school on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesdays are fully remote days.

Mahar had been fully remote since the start of the academic year, although some students with special needs have been allowed in the building for in-person instruction. The School Committee had originally opted for a hybrid model, but later reconsidered its decision. Families can opt to keep their students home to learn remotely if they wish.

The School Committee vote was 5-4, with members Patrick Davis, Maryanne Reynolds, Lynn Peredina, Jack Radner and Sunday Lefebvre voting in favor of hybrid learning and Patricia Smith, Dianne Salcedo, Carla Halpern and Chair Peter Cross voting against the measure. Member Chris Paul was not present at the meeting.

Cross explained that surveys have indicated half of the school district’s parents and guardians wanted to adopt a hybrid model — however, that number has dropped to 40 percent since the Jan. 14 vote. He said he voted against going hybrid due to the rate of COVID-19 infection in Orange.

“I felt that ... it didn’t look like the rate was going down. It wasn’t the safest thing to do,” he said. “I listened to what the teachers union said and, basically, agreed with them.”

The latest statistics from the state Department of Public Health, last updated on Jan. 21, show 46 COVID-19 cases in Orange over the previous two-week period, putting Orange in the state’s highest-risk or “red” category.

Lefebvre said her vote in support of returning to hybrid learning was driven by multiple factors.

“No. 1 is, I did have a lot of parents who really wanted that opportunity for their kids, because they felt their kids’ education and social development were not where it ought to be,” she said Monday. “They knew teachers were doing the best they could doing remote, but it’s not the same.”

Lefebvre also said some students do not have reliable internet at home, and that schools throughout Massachusetts have been able to function in a hybrid model during the pandemic. Some out-of-state schools, she added, have their students attending school full-time, five days a week.

“I’m cautious, but I believe we can open with that caution, and that’s why I voted ‘yes,’” Lefebvre said, adding that she has received only one negative comment since the vote.

Elizabeth Teahan-Zielinski, in her first year as superintendent of the Ralph C. Mahar Regional and Union 73 school districts, said everyone in the school community is doing their part to stay safe since the return to school.

“It’s been calm, cool and collected,” she said, adding that students wear masks and practice social distancing. “It is always a challenge to teach both remote and in-person students at the same time. But students are doing their thing, teachers are doing their thing. And the teachers are doing a wonderful job, and we’re going to get through this.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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