• July 27, 2020

    Dear Staff and Families,

    August is just around the corner, and many have been asking questions about what the school year is going to look like come September. I realize it is unsettling to be this late in the summer and not have specific plans. In addition, we have the looming deadline to submit a comprehensive plan to DESE by August 10. We have been living in uncertain times for months, and the uncertainty continues due to the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19. We have been very fortunate in Falmouth that our numbers have remained low for an extended period of time; however, the numbers have been rising of late on the Cape. Fortunately, our governor has been thoughtful and progressive with a plan to keep Massachusetts’ numbers low and take action as needed. With that said, we still cannot predict what will happen in the days and weeks to come. Please know that all plans are tentative and subject to change based on continued feedback from our staff and families and the state of the pandemic at a local, state, and national levelEven after we submit the plan to DESE on August 10th, we can still modify the plan as needed to meet our local needs and to maintain the safety and welfare of our staff and students. 

    The health and safety of staff and students remain our top priority. We continue to follow the medical professionals’ expertise and the evolving science and adjust our plans accordingly. We will continue to do so up to and beyond the start of school to ensure the maximum guardrails are in place for all. In part, our plan includes three models for implementing learning this year: in-person, hybrid, and remote. This is essential, so we can quickly and efficiently move from one plan to the next as needed.  

    Over the last few weeks I’ve sent communications that have outlined portions of a growing plan based on DESE guidance.


    On June 25, after receiving the initial guidance from DESE, I shared information on health and safety practices (wearing a mask, distancing, and washing hands) and how families can help reduce risks by monitoring their children's health and keeping children home when they are not well. Science continues to support these measures in the community and in school as the most effective measures to combat this pandemic. Specifically, it was announced that 

    • students in grades 2 -12 and staff would be required to wear masks, with exceptions for health and safety factors, 

    • students will be assigned to cohorts to the extent possible, and

    • desks will be arranged between 3-6 feet and facing in one direction.

    School teams have been conducting feasibility studies focused on space and staff to allow for the maximum number of students who choose to return to in-person learning. Our early thinking based on initial findings yielded an in-person model for grades Prek - 8 and a hybrid model for the high school. At the same time, and equally valuable, is offering families the option to engage in remote learning. The science is clear that our most vulnerable students should be in the physical school space to address the inequities that have emerged during the pandemic. However, with our increased ability to offer a quality remote education, families and students may feel the remote learning option is the best option for their family. Whether our students are in-person or remote, I have total confidence that we will make connections and build relationships with our students and families, providing love and support in new and creative ways.

    On July 10, I shared our continued development to offer masks breaks during the day both indoors and outdoors. Each school began working on plans for setting up outdoor classrooms and plans for how and where breakfast and lunch will be served with students 6 feet apart. I also shared our feasibility studies and reported we could ensure at least 4 feet distance between students in most classrooms. 

    By this time, we sent our families a comprehensive survey to inform our continued planning. The early results were shared in the next communication on July 17. The early results indicated about half our families prefer in-person learning, 6-7% prefer remote, and not surprising, about 20% were still undecided. Probably, the most important result for planning for in-person learning was the large number of families who indicated they would drive their children to/from school. Whether we could offer in-person learning each week highly depended on if we could transport our students by bus with the expected restrictions that were likely to follow. 

    In addition, I shared DESE’s FAQ. New information included

    • encouraging students in kindergarten and grade 1 to wear a mask or face covering although they are not required to do so

    • aiming to keep kindergarten and grade 1 students six feet apart though 3-6 feet is acceptable

    • increasing facility ventilation by keeping classroom windows open as much as possible

    • expecting accountability through grades and attendance for students participating in remote learning 

    On July 20, I shared DESE’s full guidance for returning to school in the fall. Much of the guidance emphasized wearing masks, distancing, and washing hands. In addition, the guidance stressed that staff and students must be diligent in monitoring their symptoms and staying at home if unwell. This guidance focused on the health and safety components for a safe reopening and necessary action for responding to positive cases.

    In the last week, we have been reaching out to our families who did not complete the survey, so every student is accounted for within the design of an in-person model. This information is vital to space, staffing, and transportation. After reaching out to families who hadn’t taken the survey, we now have nearly 100% completion. The results now yield slightly higher percentages in all three categories; 65% prefer in-person learning, 10 % prefer remote, and 25% are undecided. With that said, we know these are preliminary data that could change based on the factors already expressed. We will be asking parents and guardians to report their preference once again in mid-August. As you can see, while we can make some decisions, others will remain fluid.

    New Development

    New research indicates students at grades 7 and 8 are likely included in the category with high school age students in regards to how the virus spreads. This research along with the size of rooms which only allows for the minimum number of 3 - 4 feet between students, we are moving Lawrence to a hybrid model. Half the students at both Lawrence and FHS will rotate one week in-person and one week remote while the other half will start with remote and rotate to in-person the following week. 

    New Guidance

    We received new guidance focused on bus transportation and facilities and operations this week. The bus guidance indicates

    • buses will be approximately 1/3 full 

    • students will have an assigned seat

    • one student per bench seat and staggered

    • siblings can sit together

    • everyone, including students in grades PreK-1, will be required to wear a mask, with exceptions for health and safety factors

    We will require students to secure a bus pass. We will keep students in bus cohorts. Students will not be permitted to ride a different bus.

    The facilities and operations guidance has not yielded new information or practices for FPS. Here is a summary of what is already in progress:

    • a thorough cleaning and disinfecting will occur each evening after staff and students leave the building

    • shared spaces and furniture will be cleaned between uses throughout the day

    • high-touch surfaces (e.g., door handles, light switches, handrails) will be cleaned frequently throughout the day

    • plans for arrival and dismissal, transitions between classes, bathroom breaks, masks breaks, and one-way movement pathways for hallways and cafeterias

    • floor and wall signage has been ordered

    • hand sanitizers have been installed in all classrooms without sinks and an increased number of stations have been added in high traffic areas

    • water fountains will not be in use, except for filler stations

    • some furniture has been moved out of classrooms to allow for the maximum amount of distancing for staff and students

    • temporary dividers are being installed to separate cohorts as needed in larger spaces

    • individual desks have replaced most tables for maximum distances

    • medical waiting rooms for students with COVID-19 symptoms waiting to be picked up are being identified and supplied according to guidance and at the direction of our nurses and our consulting physician

    • job postings for additional health assistants, so we have one per school

    • job postings for additional custodial support during the day

    • HVAC systems are regularly and thoroughly cleaned

    • upgraded filters are ordered and will be tested with our HVAC systems

    On July 24, 2020, DESE shared specific guidance for chorus, band, theater, dance, visual arts, and physical education. We are working with our Fine Arts and PE Departments to review the DESE guidance and develop specific guidance for FPS to follow. We will update you as we refine our plan.

    As a reminder, I will be sharing preliminary plans at the school committee meeting on Tuesday, July 28th. I caution once again, these are preliminary plans and are subject to change. 

    Thank you for participating on the various committees that have been meeting all summer. And, although some of you may not be on a specific committee, I also want to thank you for finding ways to share your optimism, concerns, and preferences. In addition, the Falmouth Educators’ Association negotiations started last week and will continue over the next weeks to come. 

    As I continue to update you on new information and revised plans, I truly wish you time to relax and renew, and enjoy your summer.


    Lori Duerr, Ed.D.
    Falmouth Public Schools