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Initial Fall Reopening Guidance

Dear Clipper Staff and Families,

The keyword this week is hope. Our collective hope is for all of our students to enjoy a wonderful summer and to be prepared to return to school in the fall, safely of course, to re-engage, reconnect, and acclimate to new routines and practices. My hope is to leverage your support to make the best plan for our students with attention to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE’s) Guidance. Today we received DESE’s Initial Fall Reopening Guidance.

DESE Guidance. Commissioner Jeffrey Riley underscored several times in the document that the guidance and allowances within it are tied to current health data and trends (pages 3-4). As those change, the guidance may also change. That said, the clear goal is to maintain safety practices in order to “bring back as many students as possible to in-person school settings, to maximize learning and address our students’ holistic needs.” 

The following are highlights from the guidance document:

  • Safety measures include rigorous hygiene and handwashing, use of masks/face coverings, physical distancing, reducing interaction between groups, staying home when sick, protecting those most vulnerable to the disease, and expanding testing and tracing capabilities. There is not one mitigation strategy. A combination of these strategies taken together will substantially reduce the risk of transmission. 

  • Families play a critical role in supporting the new culture of health and safety that each school must establish. Families can help mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 in their school communities by checking their children daily for any COVID-19 symptoms and keeping them home from school if they are sick or have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. 

  • Checking for symptoms each morning by families and caregivers is critical and will serve as the primary screening mechanism for COVID-19 symptoms. Screening procedures, including temperature checks, are not required at the point of entry to the school. 

  • Schools are required to designate a COVID-19 related isolation space that is separate from the nurse’s office. 

  • Families should ensure that students are current on all standard vaccinations before they return to in-person schooling. In addition, health providers strongly recommend all students and staff get their regular flu vaccine.

  • Current evidence suggests schools have not played a significant role in COVID-19 transmission and that children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19. If they do become infected, it appears children may be less likely to transmit COVID-19 to others.  

  • The guidance document outlines primary safety measures to be followed:

  • Students in grade 2 and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth. 

    • Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear masks/face coverings.

    • Masks/face coverings should be provided by the student/family.

    • Exceptions to mask/face covering requirements must be made for those for whom it is not possible due to medical conditions, disability impact, or other health or safety factors.

    • Mask breaks should occur throughout the day.

    • Masks/face coverings are required to be worn by everyone on the bus during school bus transportation.

    • As reviewed and advised by the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center Medical Advisory Group, schools should aim for a physical distance of six feet when feasible, and three feet is the minimum distance allowed.

    • Schools should divide students into small groups that remain with each other throughout the day with smaller cohort sizes preferred. 

    • There are no required maximums on cohort or group sizes so long as schools adhere to the physical distancing requirements.

    • Students and staff are required to exercise hand hygiene upon arrival to school, before eating, before putting on and taking off masks, and before dismissal. 

Districts will be required to submit their comprehensive fall reopening plans for each of the following three determined models in August.

  1. In-person learning with new safety requirements. In this model, all students return in-person to school settings that are appropriately modified to accommodate the health and safety requirements outlined above. 
  • FPS administrators are currently setting up classrooms with the intent of having all students grades PreK-8 safely return to school five days a week in the fall. Our early assessment is that we will be able to have all students return following the safety guidelines.
  1. Hybrid learning. This model is for use in the event that all students are unable to be in-person under the health and safety requirements or in case of COVID-19 related circumstances. A hybrid model means that students would alternate between in-person and remote learning. For instance, students could switch between in-person and remote learning on alternating weeks or days of the week.
  • FPS may need to have FHS students begin the school year on a rotating hybrid schedule.
  1. Remote learning. This model must be available for individual students who cannot yet return in-person and for all students in the event of future classroom or school closures due to COVID-19. Additional guidance on statewide support and resources for remote learning will be provided in the coming weeks. 
  • FPS will offer a full remote learning program for students who are unable to return to in-person school.
  • FPS will create a plan for how special populations, including students with disabilities and English learners, will receive necessary services and accommodations within all three models. 
  • FPS will survey all of our families in the next two weeks to learn about their intentions for allowing children to return to school and their transportation preferences. 

Summer Learning Opportunities. Ahead of reopening school in the fall, we will continue to offer summer learning opportunities for our students. FHS, Lawrence School, and our Extended School Year (ESY) Program for students who qualify will all continue. This summer, we also offer a new opportunity for our younger learners: The Summer Learning Academy. And, whether you choose to take a break or sustain some continuity to your children’s learning routines, our team in the Office of Teaching & Learning will periodically update their Continuity of Learning Page with resources and enrichment opportunities to engage your children.

Addressing Social Justice in our Schools. Just as the country shuttered stores and main streets fell silent, another challenge to our country’s welfare erupted: institutional racism’s deep roots were exposed with a string of unforgettable and disheartening acts of violence across our country. I joined with leaders across our community to author a joint statement

As a district, our response comes with its own action plan. As Superintendent, I have made it a priority to ensure staff and students are focused on equity for all Falmouth Public Schools students by reviewing district policies and practices, adding authentic and relatable curriculum, expanding staff recruiting, engaging staff and administrators in professional development, attending to the national climate and how to talk about racial justice, adopting Restorative Practices, offering the Cape Kid Meals program, working with the Affirmative Action Committee, and connecting our staff and students with No Place for Hate and the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee. 

Furthermore, Monday evening, the Town Meeting Members voted to hire an Affirmative Action/Diversity Outreach Coordinator. This shared position between the Town of Falmouth and the School Department will help promote our agenda by working with our staff, students, and families. 

Despite the unrest and challenges with which we have been faced in the past three months, we have brought the school year to a close, officially marked by Friday’s last day of school. 

Expression of Gratitude to our Families. Thank you for partnering with us over the past three months. Your understanding, support, and expressions of appreciation have been the very wind in our sails that kept us moving forward through uncharted waters. We sincerely appreciate your help to keep your children engaged with assignments, live interactions, and routines. We couldn’t have made it through this spring without you!

Please watch for continued communications over the summer as we continue to plan for the reopening of school on September 8, 2020. Please make sure we have your correct contact information; check in with your school if you need to make a change.

As I conclude this letter and think forward to all that lay ahead as we build new norms for health and education, I hope that you find time to pause and enjoy time together. I wish you and your family a safe and healthy summer!

Sincerely,

Lori Duerr, Ed.D.
Superintendent 
Falmouth Public Schools