School committee votes for hybrid return

Start of classes also delayed until September 16

Abington’s schoolchildren will be returning to school two days a week this fall and learning from home three days a week under a proposal voted by a majority of the school committee Tuesday night. 

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the hybrid model of education, with committee members Lisa Augusta, Chris Coyle, and Danielle Grafton voting yes. Committee members Wendy Happel and Jackie Abrams were the no votes. 

“If we can get safely back into our schools for some face-to-face relationship building and instruction, even if it’s just for a few days a week for a few weeks or months, and even if only have student desks in the room, I believe we will deliver a better learning experience for our students,” said Grafton, who teaches in another school district.

The board also voted to delay the start of the school year until September 16, in order to give school administrators and educators more time to plan and train. 

Each public school district in Massachusetts is required to decide between three models when schools reopen in September: in-person learning, remote learning, and a hybrid plan in which classes are split up and groups alternating between in-person and remote learning.

Under Abington’s plan, one group will attend school Monday and Tuesday and learn remotely on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The other group will learn remotely Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and go to school on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, teachers will be able to hold joint classes, prepare lesson plans, and hold office hours. 

Augusta said there were pros and cons for each model and that none were ideal.

“I just feel a hybrid model would probably be the best for a gradual progression back to in-person earning and I know that’s where we all wnt to be,” she said.

Abrams took a different position, saying she felt it would be more practical to start with remote learning so students would have that as a comfortable foundation — especially if the pandemic worsens and schools are forced to close again.

“It will be a really big deal to start hybrid and then with our youngest population say, ‘Never mind, you know that teacher you used to see twice a week? She’s not there any more but good luck at home and hope you get started [with remote learning,'” she said.

Grafton hoped parents would be “patient and supportive” as the school year starts and educators learned their new role.

“Teaching is an unbeliveably beautiful, complicated, emotional dance under the best circumstances,” she said. “Mastering the steps and delivering a perfect performance takes time. It involves trial, reflection, and modification. We have never learned this new dance and you’ll be asking us to do it in 10 days.

“Please know that teachers love your children and will do the very best they can no what happen happens with this vote.”

School committee members said they have been flooded with emails and messages from parents and teachers urging them to vote one way or another. A number of members said they have lost sleep while weighing the decision.

Happel said some of the emails were “just horrible and mean.”

“I’m not trying to hurt your children, I’m just tryiong to do what I was asked to do by the state,” she said. “Some of you who may hold grudges against us because we voted a certain way, it’s hurtful.”

Superintendent Peter Schafer said negotiations are ongoing with the Abington Education Association over implementing changes needed to start school in the COVID-19 era.

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