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Every weekday morning WCAI brings you coverage of local issues, news, and stories that matter. Join us for Morning Edition from 6 a.m. to 9a.m., with Kathryn Eident and Brian Morris.

Barnstable School Superintendent Says Flexibility is Key in Reopening Plan

Barnstable Public Schools reopening plan.

School districts across Massachusetts have until Friday to put the finishing touches on re-opening plans before they must submit them to the state. Schools must explain how they could open for in-person instruction, remote-only instruction, and a hybrid of the two. 
WCAI's Kathryn Eident talked about the process of developing Barnstable Schools' reopening plan with Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown on Morning Edition. 

Eident Good morning, Dr. Mayo-Brown. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mayo-Brown Good morning. Thank you for having me on.

Eident So the Barnstable school plan, like I'm sure most districts plans around the state, is complicated. And, you said last week, to school committee members—you stressed—that it was a flexible plan. Can you talk about how you build in flexibility to a reopening plan that serves children of all ages from preschool all the way up to seniors in high school?

Mayo-Brown Sure. First, we wanted to be able to build a plan that allowed us to pivot to between in-person and remote as necessary. But, before we could really develop our plan, since the state was prioritizing in-person learning for all students, preschool through grade 12, the commissioner of Education asked every district in the Commonwealth to do a feasibility study to see, with the physical distancing requirements, how many students could participate in in-person learning.

The state released guidance that said a minimum distance of three feet for physical distancing. CDC is recommending six feet. We went with the parameter of six feet and then just measured all of our spaces, classrooms at every grade level, and that really drove what we were able to do in terms of prioritizing in-person learning. So, we know based on our feasibility study that for grades kindergarten through third grade, we can accommodate in-person learning. That gets more difficult, as in our larger buildings with larger enrollments. We're just not able to have all of our students for in-person learning. So, when you hear districts talk about in-person versus hybrid, often cases, that's really dictated by the physical distancing.

So, we were able to do in-person, as I said, kindergarten through third grade and then fourth through 12th grade is a hybrid model for us. Now, we know in each of those scenarios we may find ourselves, depending on what happens with the virus, a need to pivot to a remote learning either for a short amount of time if we have a classroom or part of a school that needs to go into isolation for 14 days, and our students need to be able to learn remotely.

Or, we just also provided an option for some parents who are saying, "You know what? I don't want anything to do with in person right now. I'm able to facilitate learning at home. I would like my child to participate in a 100% remote learning." So, again, our plan needed to be flexible, to provide in-person hybrid, and then this sort of standalone model for parents who just want 100% remote learning.

Eident You mentioned parents and you sent out surveys to try to gauge how they're feeling about all of this as you developed the plan. Did you see any common themes from the parents that returned these surveys as to concerns or wishes that they have for this upcoming school year for their children?

Mayo-Brown Yes, we've done a couple of surveys with our families as well, and we've done separate surveys with our educators and staff. And, what we see from our families, our most recent survey, which we did a couple of weeks ago, was 80% of our families would like in-person learning and 20% would like this remote only option.

Now, we have 5,000 students in Barnstable. We had about 2,300 survey responses, so a little bit less than a 50%% response rate. So but I think that statistic of 80% want in-person and 20% remote—that's how we really started to develop, finalize our plan. And, I presented to the school committee, again, feeling a little more confident about matching the expectations of our parents through an in-person or hybrid learning model.

Eident Mm hmm. And teachers, of course, have had something to say about this, as they are the ones doing the instruction. And, we heard from some last week at the school committee meeting who are pretty nervous about going back into the classroom. Can you talk about how you've been working with teachers and the kinds of protections that you're putting in place for those who do go back to the classroom in September?

Mayo-Brown Sure. We started our planning process for fall reopening back in May. We knew that the state was going to be releasing guidance, you know, at some point in the summer. But, we wanted to do some scenario planning beginning in May to say, "OK, if it looks like this will do this." Our educators, our teachers and staff have been part of the planning process with us since May. So, we've-- I've been able to really hear their worries and their concerns. And, that's part of the reason we're doing a phased-in opening. So we'll open for two weeks in a remote mode.

So, all of our students, beginning on September 16th through September 25th, will be remote- only. And, that's really in response to our educators saying, "It's Cape Cod. We don't know what's going to happen over Labor Day weekend. Could we have some time to really see if there's any community spread as a result of tourism over Labor Day weekend?" Absolutely. We hear them on that.

So, we're doing this phased-in approach of two weeks of remote learning. And then beginning on September 28, we start our in-person and hybrid models, but at a reduced schedule for the day. So, students will come for four hours, for a day for those two weeks. Again, a rationale behind that is we have so many protocols we've developed. And, we've developed these protocols, from you know, from physical distancing to a lot of hand washing into what recess looks like, what lunch might look like. What happens if someone has symptoms while they're at school?

So, a number of protocols that we've developed when our students are not present in the building. So, my rationale for saying, "Let's do a four hour day for a period of two weeks" is to, when students leave after those four hours, we can gather as adults in the buildings and say, "All right, which one of our protocols, you know, are they working as we intended them to work? Do we need to tweak anything?" We don't want to take any sort of longer period of time than the next day to readjust our protocol so that we are maintaining our commitment to health and safety for both our students and our staff.

Eident I imagine that it must be a huge challenge because you're not just thinking about in the classroom. You have to think about every single minute of that school day from when the child gets on the bus all the way to when that child returns home. And, you know, kids are kids. They they're social creatures and, you know, maybe excited to see their friends and teachers again and helping them to understand the need and the severity of this pandemic I imagine was was a big deal for you, right? Transportation, I imagine, was a big thorn in figuring out the plan.

Mayo-Brown Absolutely. We've had to deconstruct every single minute of the day from the time that a student may get on the bus, if they're taking bus transportation, to the time that they get off the bus at the end of the school day and everything that happens in between. And, you mentioned transportation.

So, normally our busses can transport—you know, you picture a large yellow school bus—can transport about 77 students at full capacity. Again, due to the physical distancing that's required that really supports healthy transportation, that bus or that ridership capacity is now down to 24 students. So, the busses we have are the busses we have. We can't buy any more. There's no more to be had in the United States, right? So, we're having to look at how we're transporting students again in the hybrid model that we'll have from fourth through 12th grade.

We think our transportation will be fine. It's more at that K through three level. But again, in our survey from parents, many parents are indicating that they don't want to put their child on the bus, and they may have normally done that previous years, that they want to do their own transportation. So, we may be OK in terms of transportation, but I think, you know, we'll certainly know as the date nears.

Eident We just have a few seconds left, maybe 10 seconds. But, for parents who are really wrestling with what to do in the fall, what's your advice? One sentence on that.

Mayo-Brown Watch the public health data for Barnstable County.

Eident Thank you, and that is Dr. Meg Mayo-Brown, Superintendent of Barnstable Public Schools. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

Mayo-Brown Thank you. Thank you for having me.

This transcript was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.