Pioneer school district might not return to in-person learning next school year

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2020 1:03:05 PM

NORTHFIELD — Students in the Pioneer Valley Regional School District may not return to in-person classes anytime soon.

Last week, the Pioneer School Committee held a brief discussion on the likelihood of resuming in-person education for the start of next school year. School Physician Dr. Ruth Potee said she does not expect the district to “return to normal” by then.

Superintendent Jonathan Scagel said it remains unclear how and when schools will reopen, but the administration team and Potee continue to plan for a safe return once the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Scagel and Potee said the plan involves three phases. Currently, the district remains in Phase I, with full remote learning in place and a high disease prevalence in the community.

If conditions continue to improve over the summer, Potee said the goal is to return to school at a Phase II level. According to Scagel, Phase II is marked by moderate disease prevalence and increased capacity of testing and tracing.

Scagel and Potee said the district should be prepared to stay at Phase II for the entirety of the 2020 to 2021 school year, shifting back to Phase I periodically for eight-week intervals. While no decisions have been made at this time, Potee said it would likely require busses to be cleaned after every trip, and classes to operate with a limited number of students per room. There may be a staggered schedule, with days off between in-person lessons to disinfect the buildings.

Potee said she does not expect to enter Phase III — return to normal — at any time next school year. According to Scagel, Phase III will mark a low disease prevalence in the community, and see an effective vaccine in place.

“It may not happen until the end of the school year, or middle of school year 2022,” Potee said. “‘Return to normal’ I don’t think is going to happen at all next year.”

Maintaining health safety through any level of return will involve changes at all levels of the district. Referencing a New Yorker article, Potee said there are four requirements to protect students and faculty. These include increased hand-washing and hygiene, full-time mask-wearing among staff, teachers and children, practicing social distancing at all times and having health screenings in place.

“No staff, no teacher, no student should ever be at school if they’re even remotely sick,” Potee said. “If those four things are not in place, we will have a resurgence of the disease. Every one of those steps has to be well-thought-out, and it’s going to be tricky at every level.”

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

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