School district announces mask policy, finalizes reopening details

Aug. 27, 2020 | Sarah Heinonen
sarah@thereminder.com

HAMPDEN/WILBRAHAM – The Hampden–Wilbraham Regional School Committee reviewed several new policies at its Aug. 20 meeting, including one that governs face coverings in schools.

The face covering/mask policy came down from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees and codified when masks must be worn and what exemptions are allowed. Face coverings must cover the nose and mouth and are required for students in all grade levels except preschool. The grade level stipulation may be changed at a future date and plans and guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is refined. They are required to be worn in all school buildings, on school grounds and on school transportation, regardless of social distancing.

Students may receive an exemption from the face covering rule if they have a doctor’s note signifying a medical or behavioral issue that makes wearing a face covering “unsafe.” A mask also may not be required if the student has trouble breathing, cannot remove a mask without help, or is unconscious or incapacitated. A parent’s note or waiver is not acceptable to excuse students from the requirement.

The district finished finalizing the cohorts of students for the hybrid return to school this fall. Superintendent Albert Ganem called the process of making the cohorts a “delicate balance.” Parents will be notified as early as the week of Aug. 24 through the parent portal.

Ganem reported the percentages of parents that have chosen an all-remote learning model at each school. Mile Tree will have 17.64 percent use all remote learning, Soule Road has 17.64 percent opting to learn remotely and Stony Hill will see 17.86 percent of students go remote. Numbers at the other schools are lower, with 11.07 percent of Wilbraham Middle School students and 10.01 percent of high school students not physically returning. Just 8.93 percent of Green Meadows students have chosen to use the remote-only option.

Ganem said the numbers were collected through a survey sent out to parents and caregivers earlier this summer and emails he has received from families.

“These numbers look accurate for our enrollment, too,” Ganem added.

In terms of homeschooling, there have been 12 new requests, nine at the elementary level and three in the high school. This brings the total number of homeschooled students living in the district to 50. Homeschooling requires the parent or caregiver to submit a request and curriculum to the district for approval.

Committee Member Sean Kennedy made a motion to physically conduct School Committee meetings at Minnechaug Regional High School once more in an effort to reassure teachers and families that it is safe to go into schools again. The meetings would still be broadcast via Zoom to allow the public to take part. While School Committee Chair Sherrill Caruana noted that it is sometimes difficult to hear people through video conferencing technology while they are wearing masks, the committee unanimously voted to return to hosting meetings at the high school. Ganem praised the move as “role model” behavior.

Ganem announced that a new director of finance and operations has been selected. Aaron Osborne will step into the position recently occupied by Howard Barber, who will officially leave the district at the end of August.

Osborne was vetted by School Committee members, principals, administrators, town officials and central office staff and participated in multiple interviews. The University of Massachusets Boston graduate is a former teacher, superintendent and finance and operations director. Osborne later said in a press release, “within a short time, I am confident that I can make a significant contribution to the Hampden–Wilbraham team in this role.”

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