Committee adopts number of new COVID-19 policies
High school students won’t be able to use their lockers or bring breakfast sandwiches into class. The Beaver Brook Elementary School playground will be off limits for afterschool play. Students won’t be able to use distracting backgrounds while on teleconferencing apps.
Returning to school during a pandemic requires a number of new rules and policies. So the Abington School Committee spent almost two hours going over those changes Thursday night during their final meeting before classes resume in person for the first time in six months.
Abington students will return to school this Wednesday, Sept 16. The Green cohort will be in person, while the Wave cohort will be remote. The two cohorts will swap places for Thursday and then both groups will be home Friday. The regular schedule will start up the following Monday.
[Editor’s note: It would be impossible to write about every policy change that was discussed during the meeting without essentially turning this article into a transcription. Instead, we have included the key policy documents at the bottom of this article. Each school principal also spoke about specific changes for their building, so we also encourage you to take a few minutes and watch the part of the meeting that impacts your student or students.]
Just under 300 Abington students have opted to learn remotely, with 1,859 students participating in the hybrid learning.
The school committee unanimously approved an updated contract agreement with the Abington Education Association that covers the new policies and expectations of teachers. Abington teachers have not yet voted to approve it, but if they do it means the town will avoid labor disputes that have popped up in some communities.
Schools Superintendent Peter Schafer publicly thanked the union and union leaders for working productively toward an agreement.
“We basically had to take multiple documents from the CDC, DPH, and [the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] and take the Abington contract and put all those together,” he said.
A copy of the agreement was not immediately available.
Schafer said only two Abington teachers have chosen not to return to the classroom this year.
The school committee also adopted changes to the athletic program. Abington High School will only offer soccer, golf, and cross-country this fall – sports that generally allow participants to stay apart. Football, competitive cheerleading, and volleyball will be included in the new season that is scheduled to be played in February and March.
Students who have opted to learn remotely will need to request permission to play sports, and then have to meet with the athletic director, principal, and a guidance counselor. Athletic Director Peter Serino said one reason for this policy was to allow school officials to check-in with a student they may not have seen for months. School committee member Jackie Abrams was the lone vote against the policy, saying it was vague and didn’t clearly outline under what conditions a remote learning student wouldn’t be allowed to play sports.
The school committee also approved a policy around the use of face coverings, a policy allowing parents to opt out of having their kids use hand sanitizer for medical reasons (they’ll be provided soap and water instead), as well as a code of conduct students must follow while online and learning remotely.
Assistant Superintendent Felicia Moschella said with more parents opting to drive their children to school, they should be ready for backups onto Washington Street near the Beaver Brook and Chestnut Street near the Woodsdale in particular.
“Please be patient, please be careful,” she said. “Abington police will be around to help with whatever issues we have.”
Schafer apologized to families disappointed that Abington schools are outsourcing remote learning for grades 7-12. He said the initial plan was to have Abington teachers instructing each class but that they couldn’t secure enough local teachers to cover all the sections. Covering a section would have required teachers to add another class alongside their normal courseload.
“We had 35 sections to cover. Math alone there was 8 different offerings between missile school and high school,” he said. “We just could not cover what needed to be covered in the program of studies.”