Abington’s Pre-K-Grade 8 students will return to the classroom full-time starting the week of April 5, Superintendent Peter Schafer and the school committee announced Thursday night. High school students will return the following week, April 12.
The announcement came exactly one year to the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Abington students, like most around the state, have not been in classrooms full-time since mid-March 2020, when Gov. Baker ordered schools closed in response to the growing public health crisis.
“Yay,” School Committee Chairwoman Wendy Happel said following the board’s unanimous vote in favor of the regathering plan. “I feel a little relief here.”
Schafer said high school students will return a week after middle school students to allow administrators to better handle “logistical challenges” associated with drop-off/pick-up, new bus routes, and safely preparing meals for 1,200 students,
Many of the policies in effect since September will remain in place. Students and staff will still be required to wear masks, even if they’ve been vaccinated, as well as adhere to hygiene rules. Students will also still receive mask breaks.
But other pieces will change as school officials try to absorb twice the number of the students while still meeting basic social distancing standards.
In order to accommodate more than two dozen desks and chairs spaced at least three feet apart, elementary school classrooms will be stripped of nearly all bookcases and shelving. School officials are reserving multiple spaces within their buildings to hold lunch, a time when students will be mask-less. A large tent has already been set up behind the Woodsdale Elementary School to help accommodate the increased number of students; one is also coming soon to the Beaver Brook. Middle and high school students will be placed in the cafeteria, seminar room, main hallways and middle school gymnasium for lunch time.
Families who have been participating in full remote learning will have the option of returning in person, or staying as is. Depending on the number of students opting to come back per grade, those students may be placed in newly created classes; some of these classes may contain multiple grades. No student who has been taking part in hybrid learning will be required to switch classes or teachers.
Bus routes will be reworked to reflect the new student population. All students who currently take the bus will be eligible to continue taking the bus. New requests for bus service, including from students who had been learning fully remote, may be placed on a waitlist depending on available seats.
Once students return full-time, classes will no longer be live-streamed in grades K-4. Classes will be livestreamed on a limited basis in grades 5-12 for students in medically fragile households, as determined by school administrators.
The school department is in the process of hiring additional part-time custodians, lunch/recess paraprofessionals, instructional paraprofessionals, and multi-grade classroom teachers. The new positions will be paid for through a recent $600,000 allocation of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II funds.
Schafer said principals will be providing additional information to families in the coming days.