Pioneer School Committee adds half-day to hybrid model, prohibits gaiter masks

  • John Langer teaches math to seventh-grade students under a tent at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield on Thursday. Though the hybrid learning model isn’t expected to start until Oct. 8, special populations of students are currently attending in-person instruction. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • John Langer teaches math to seventh-grade students under a tent at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield on Thursday. Though the hybrid learning model isn’t expected to start until Oct. 8, special populations of students are currently attending in-person instruction. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Juniors Dylan Fisher and Ryan Potter study with a sheet of Plexiglas between them in the library at Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield on Thursday. Though the hybrid learning model isn’t expected to start until Oct. 8, special populations of students are currently attending in-person instruction. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Middle school students take a break outside Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield on Thursday, when they have the option of taking off their masks. Though the hybrid learning model isn’t expected to start until Oct. 8, special populations of students are currently attending in-person instruction. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School Principal Kevin Burke leads a group of students to their next class on Thursday. Though the hybrid learning model isn’t expected to start until Oct. 8, special populations of students are currently attending in-person instruction. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2020 1:39:34 PM

NORTHFIELD — An adjustment to Pioneer Valley Regional School’s hybrid learning model, which is expected to start Oct. 8, will see student cohorts receive an added half-day of in-person learning every other Friday.

The Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee unanimously approved the change during a brief, half-hour meeting Thursday night. Superintendent Jonathan Scagel said the Oct. 8 start date is likely, provided that COVID-19 cases remain low locally and the district continues to maintain safety protocols.

In this model, special populations of students will continue to attend in-person instruction every day, as is the case currently. The rest of the student populations are divided into Cohort A and Cohort B, with alternate days for in-person learning.

“For example, one week it would be cohort A on Monday, Wednesday and a half-day Friday,” Scagel said. “The following week, Cohort B would be on Tuesday, Thursday and a half-day Friday.”

In the event of a Monday holiday, which would impact Cohort A, Scagel said the school could possibly add extra time on one of Cohort A’s Fridays to compensate.

Scagel said administrators and members of the Pioneer Valley Regional Education Association (PVREA) and Pioneer Valley Association of Support Professionals (PVASP) discussed and agreed to the adjusted schedule before going before the School Committee on Thursday.

“We want the students in, as much as possible, in front of teachers,” Scagel said. “I know the teachers want that as well, so we think this is a really good thing.”

After a few days back, Scagel said he has heard a lot of positive comments from students who are excited to see their teachers. Though circumstances “are not quite normal,” he said it feels good to get back underway.

“It’s just been so nice to be back,” agreed Claire Brennan, PVREA co-president. “It’s been almost six months. It’s been nice to be with the kids, even though it’s remote. They’re ready to be back.”

“Our lights are shining bright seeing the kids smiling with their eyes even if we can’t see their mouths all the time,” added fellow PVREA Co-President Renee Keir. “It’s exhausting, we won’t pretend it’s not. We’re all doing this on fumes, but I think we’re gathering energy from one another because we’re together again. It feels good.”

Mask policy revisions

The School Committee also revised the district’s mask policy — which was approved last month — to prohibit gaiter masks and bandanas in place of cloth or medical masks.

Gaiter masks, commonly seen on athletes, are made of thin nylon that is worn both over the nose and mouth and around the neck. Recent studies and reports have questioned the effectiveness of gaiter masks and bandanas for protecting against the spread of COVID-19.

“The science is definitely out on that, that they just really aren’t effective,” commented the school district’s Head Nurse Carla Simpson.

Simpson also discussed when students will be allowed to remove their masks. They can do so on designated mask breaks, while eating or drinking, during physical education classes, and while they are both outside and practicing social distancing.

“We have ample space on our outside grounds,” she said. “I feel like we should really give them time to have some fresh air if they’re really able to spread out.”

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



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