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FRAMINGHAM, MA — Framingham students may return to school this fall under a "hybrid" learning model, where students attend a mix of in-person and remote classes as a strategy to tamp down the spread of coronavirus.
The hybrid option is one of three possible models for the district, with a full return to classes and all-remote learning the other two. But the district hasn't landed on any firm option yet. The uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic seems to be the only constant, Superintendent Robert Tremblay said Wednesday night.
"Tonight is not a back-to-school proposal that I'm looking to put into place, it's our current thinking today, which might be different tomorrow," Tremblay said. "If I put nothing out there, it seems no one is paying attention, but that's not been the case."
Under the district's plan, which was presented Wednesday during a joint meeting of the School Committee and the Board of Health, students would remain 6 feet apart at all times, a higher standard than the 3-foot minimum state officials are recommending. Busing would look a lot different: only students in grade 6 and below who live 2 or miles from school would be able to use them. The district would place sanitizer stations throughout schools, and set aside isolation rooms for sick people.
The plan also has some gaps, like how to handle distancing while students change classes, and how to accommodate visitors. Other unknowns include how the district will offer speech and music classes where students have to use loud voices, which increases the transmission of respiratory droplets.
Tremblay also said that remote learning, while healthier, leaves some students at a disadvantage: English language learners, special education students, and students with individual learning plans.
"There's so much nuance to this, it's staggering," Tremblay said Wednesday.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is requiring every school district across the state submit back-to-school plans by the end of July. Framingham will likely finalize plans by the July 29 School Committee meeting.
Framingham Health Director Dr. Samuel Wong said he agreed with the hybrid approach, but suggested the school district consider beginning the fall term with remote learning before transitioning to the mixed approach.
Local cases are low right now, Wong said, but he has seen new local cases in people who recently returned from a coronavirus hotspot, like Florida. Wong suggested up to two months of remote learning at first, which would allow the district to watch for a second coronavirus wave — and avoid any Eastern equine encephalitis problems. A later start would also give the district time to upgrade facilities and train staff.
"I'm concerned," Wong said referring to an increase in travel-related cases. "If we can start the school on hybrid model later, that will provide us a little more time to assess the situation, whether we are in fact facing a second wave or not."
As fall gets closer, Tremblay will begin hosting weekly live-chats for parents starting July 22 to answer questions from parents. The events will be held at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each Wednesday. Here's the "hybrid" proposal the School Committee reviewed Wednesday night.