Recorder: "Greenfield School Committee sets tentative date for Phase 2 reopening"

Greenfield Public Schools in the News

Greenfield School Committee sets tentative date for Phase 2 reopening

By ANITA FRITZ

Staff Writer

Published: 10/28/2020 4:42:00 PM

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield School Department is looking at moving to Phase 2 of its reopening plan on Nov. 9, but it will need to work with the city’s Health Department and Board of Health and continue negotiations with the teachers’ union to make sure that can happen.

Transitioning from remote learning, Phase 2 will welcome high-needs students back in person. It is expected they would learn under tents outside of each of the schools — which were put up at the start of the school year — until it is no longer possible due to weather and temperatures. The school district will also look at closing the sides of the tents and using outdoor heaters, if necessary.

“We’ve been preparing for this since we closed in the spring,” Superintendent Jordana Harper said during a virtual special School Committee meeting Tuesday night. “We’ve been doing a few outdoor in-person services, but this would expand it.”

Harper said steps have been taken and the school district has been talking and negotiating with the teachers’ union, but they haven’t come to any agreements or firm plans yet.

“Custodians are our unsung heroes,” she said. “We’ve installed hand sanitizer stations, mats under them so that people don’t slip on the sanitizer that falls to the floor. We’ve purchased electrostatic disinfectant sprayers for our nightly cleaning routine. We have signage and decals reminding everyone to wear face masks, sign in and out at the entrances, to practice social distancing and more. That’s district-wide, so when students return, we’re ready.”

Harper said school buildings are being prepared by replacing air filters and assessing all heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

“We’re making sure everything is beyond safe — we’ll do a third or fourth testing this Thursday and Friday,” she said referring to the air-exchange systems in each school. “We’re following the guidance of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and of state public health agencies to make sure our students, staff and teachers will be as safe as possible when we return.”

Plexiglas barriers have been installed in administrative areas throughout schools and in the Academy of Early Learning, so that the youngest students can sit together at tables to learn but be protected at the same time, she said.

While the School Committee voted to have high-needs students return Nov. 9, it did so as a tentative plan, because if the city’s health officials say it is too dangerous or if something happens, like a surge in positive COVID-19 cases, that could change.

“We just can’t give a definite timeline until everything is in place,” School Committee Chair Amy Proietti said. “The tents are obviously the safest place to start, but this is New England and we’re not sure how much it will cooperate.”

School nurses are currently working with city health and school officials to reach a consensus on all protocols, including hand-washing, staying at home if a student or teacher has any symptoms, practicing social distancing and mask wearing, among other issues.

When they return, everyone will have to fill out a Google form each day as part of a daily health screening, Harper said.

The Greenfield School Department has also been ordering large amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE). Harper said there is a substantial supply of various types of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and more.

“Our students and teachers will be well-served when they return,” she said. “We are discussing some staff members’ concerns about returning, especially those with medical issues.”

The School Committee also authorized Harper to negotiate the opening with the teachers’ union.

“We’re doing everything in our power,” Harper said. “We’re using common sense, not fear.”

During this next phase, high-needs students will do a combination of in-person and remote learning. Harper said that will include students in special education with Individualized Education Program (IEP) plans, students just beginning to learn English, and students who are homeless or have disabilities. All will be “staffing dependent.”

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who is a School Committee member and abstained from the vote, said she’s concerned with setting a date until the school district has been given the “green light” by the city’s health officials.

“I’m just being cautious,” she said. “We just have to make sure we reopen in a smart and healthy way, and then there are no guarantees. Learning under tents will be weather dependent, and of course, if we have any surges, that could end in-person learning again.”

The School Committee will meet again in two weeks — date and time to be announced — to continue its discussion on reopening. For more information, visit gpsk12.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.