Answers still coming as school year approaches

Parents have questions. School administrators only have some answers. This is education in a COVID-19 environment.

The Abington School Committee last week voted to start the upcoming school year using a hybrid model, where classes are split up and students switch between in-class learning and remote learning. Parents are also able to choose remote learning for their children. 

But what those educational programs will look like when school resumes September 16 remains a work in progress. Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer has likened the process to building a plane while also flying it. 

In an email to parents this week, Schafer announced that students will be split into two groups: a “Green” group and a “Wave” group. One group will attend school in person Monday and Tuesday and do remote learning Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The second group will do remote learning on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and attend school in person on Thursday and Friday. 

The plan is to divide the groups by last name. However, school officials are taking in other factors before announcing the initial splits. Not every grade may divide evenly between A and M and N through Z. Students from the same family will be kept in the same group, however, as will siblings with different last names.  

Schafer said the dividing line also becomes more complicated with high school students, depending on the classes they’re taking. AP classes, for example, may already be small and difficult to split in half. 

The initial groupings are expected to be released next week.

Schafer said there will be a process announced for parents to request switching their child’s grouping due to child care issues, family circumstances, or other reasons.

“We’re going to bend over backwards to honor those changes, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to honor 100 percent of them,” Schafer said.

For parents who are opting to have their children learn remotely (a reminder: this is different from home schooling), details have been particularly lacking with just a few weeks before the start of school.

Schafer said on one hand they need an idea of how many students will be learning remotely in order to devise a program. However, parents may not make a final decision until they know what the program is going to look like. 

Some school districts have made the decision that remote learners will take part in an online curriculum contracted by the state. Schafer said he’d prefer Abington students are taught by Abington teachers as much as possible. 

“We need to get an initial number (of remote learners) so we can start to plan and then publish a plan and get a final answer from people,” he said. “It’s stressful, confusing and more work but better than just automatically deciding to outsource to someone else.”

If a third party is used for remote learning, Schafer said that person would be an accredited teacher and follow state remote learning guidelines.

Remote learning for the coming school year will more resemble a traditional classroom, Schafer said. Students would have a similar length school day as if they were in class, attendance will be taken, and assignments will be graded.

“But there would also be option for busy families where they could catch up if they’re not able to be there live,” said Schafer.

With a flurry of communications expected in the coming weeks, Schafer asked parents to make sure they are on the school department’s email list. Parents can sign up by clicking here.

School Committee Chairwoman Wendy Happel has compiled questions from parents and publishing responses from Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer on Facebook. Here is a compilation of those posts:

Q. Any details on what the virtual only will look like? Who will be teaching, what the curriculum will be for each grade? Will the kids be taking the actual classes they are enrolled in at AHS, or will they have to change their schedule to what the virtual program offers?

A. I am sorry. I wish I could tell you more about the remote option at this time. First, we need to know how many students will likely participate and how many staff might be available. I know this must feel like I am leaving you in the dark and asking for a decision. Therefore, regardless of what you decide on this survey, you will be able to switch when more detail is available.

Q. If a parent decides to go completely remote for their child, can we get together with neighbors that are in the same age/grade and have the same remote teacher or curriculum so that we can help each other by being on the same lesson plan while we the parents are working?

A. That would be up to you. Unfortunately, it isn’t something the schools could organize.

Q. The kids that would get free lunch, can they still get it the 2 days they go? Will we get the pandemic ebt like we did at the end of the school year?

A. Yes to free and reduced lunch and if they don’t come in on any given day their family can pick lunch up.

Q. I’m feeling pretty disheartened that APS is unable to tell us what “online seats” they were planning on purchasing for students of parents who choose remote learning for their kids so that we could look into it. At least an idea of what the remote learning plan COULD be would have been helpful in making a decision on whether to stay enrolled in APS or to enroll in a public online option like TECCA or Greenfield. Now I see a news article there are waitlists for admission to these online program.

A. We’re doing the best we can. Trying to put together an Abington version is more work but it will be better for our kids if we can get it up and running.

Q. Do you know, if we send in the forms to opt to keep them home and then in 1.5 weeks the school decides to start full remote instead, can we join the schools remote program or are we bound to the state program until November?

A. You will need to wait until a natural break like first term.

Q. My daughter had her kindergarten evaluation yesterday, I had asked about possibly being able to choose which cohort she ends up in (to better suit our schedule at home). Am I able to choose?

A. We will assign soon based on alphabet.

Q. Will students with Special Needs be doing the Hybrid model as well?

A. Yes, however depending on IEP they might be coming to school more often for more services.

Q. Will students on IEPs be in the same classroom learning at the same pace as students without IEPS/Modification plans?

A. Their program will be dictated by their IEP

Q. My kids have two different last names and are in two different schools. Will you know to schedule them together or should I contact the principals?

A. We should capture them in or process. If missed, it will be corrected.

Q. Will student be provided with technology?! My High school student does have the laptop but it is very unreliable. Can students swap their laptop if it is having issues for a new one?

A. Yes, we will be providing tech support.

Q. How are negotiations going with our Abington teachers? Is there any information that can be shared at this time?

A. I am sorry. Everything becomes public when it’s over

Q. Wondering in High School, how are they going to do  alphabetically? Are they not going to be leveling? 

A. The high school level will be the least divided cleanly by alphabet so that we can deliver the best program of studies.

Q. For those of us with children who are under an IEP plan and know our child will be easily distracted during online learning how will they not fall behind 

A. Agreed, nothing can replace in-person learning. We will do that to the extent humanly possible with the existing conditions.

Q, If our children can attend in person education 2 days a week….then why not all 5…since going two days still exposes them to potentially carrying home the virus to older family members, siblings or those with other existing health condition making them higher risk.

A. Because all 5 days would bring all students back and double possible transmission/exposure rate and cut in-half the amount of distance in the physical spaces. No school was ever designed to have enough room for all students during a pandemic. The safety requirements make bringing everyone back at once unreasonable.

Q. What about the lower income families who have no internet or printer access and no laptop or computer the child can use? And parents who work at home who cannot share their work computer? Will the school be providing what is needed?

A. Yes, however they will need to tell us who they are.

Q. If I keep my children home and teach remote it sounded like they would be unenrolled in the Abington school district and would be on a homeschooling program that Abington would pay for. Is this correct?

A. They can stay enrolled and Abington is responsible for the remote learning.

Q. Also what if a few months down the road maybe everything is going smoothly in school and I want to send them to school? Is that an option?

A. Yes and I can’t wait for that day.

Q. Also, when do I need to make this decision by?

A. More information will be coming along with the process asap.

Q. Is the bus going to be prorated seeing they are only going 2 days/week?

A. Great question, that is one of the many we are working on at this time.

Q. Will all assignments in all grades be on Canvas?

A. The vast majority will be graded. Just like in a regular class. All will likely be on Canvas.

Q. When will a parent class be available to learn how to navigate Canva?

A. The school department is setting up tutorials for parents.

Q. When will the school supply list come out?

A. Probably not until the weeks just prior to opening.

Q. How will the incoming Kindergarten class be divided?

A. The way it has been traditionally. We try to balance classes.

Q. Will Kindergarten start the same day as the other grades?

A. Yes, as the other BBES students.

Q. When will the parents receive information as to the days their child will be in school?

A. Just as soon as we can.

Q. Now that it’s decided for the hybrid school year to start I was wondering if we are still going to be able to borrow laptops like we we’re able to when this started last school year?

A. Yes, everyone who needs one will get one.

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