School Committee discusses options for back-to-school

July 29, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE – Members of the School Committee raised many questions during their July 22 meeting about the next school year. Some of the questions had definitive answers but not in all cases.

Superintendent Lynn Clark noted decisions will be made according to data about the spread of COVID-19 and that may be changing in the next few weeks.

Chicopee, like all school districts across the Commonwealth, must develop three strategies by July 31 and then must announce which of those strategies it will adapt: all students attending class in person; remote learning; and a hybrid plan in which students alternate between learning at home and at schools.

This was the first meeting in months of the committee coming together in person, although some members attended it by telephone. James Tanhauser was one of the members there by phone and he said at the beginning of the meeting the in-person meeting was “unnecessary.”

Clark prefaced conversation with the committee, by saying, “We are doing the best we can … trying to share them [state directives] as soon as we get them.”

Mayor John Vieau, chair of the committee, added, “This is a very unique time of uncertainty.”

Assistant Superintendent Matthew T. Francis said if the in-person plan is adapted or the hybrid plan is chosen, the capacity to transports students by bus will “influence the plan selection.”

He added there are five additional days of teacher development days in order to prepare instructors for the additional rigors of teaching in the pandemic

Committee member Marjorie A. Wojcik asked if the district would need more buses and Francis said it depends on the projected numbers based on the selected plan.

He said the Commonwealth is allowing a distance of three feet between desks in classrooms, although six in preferred.

Francis added, “I’m not there yet to say we need more buses.” Clark noted the district has five buses used for field trips and these could be used, but no new buses would be purchased.

Francis said the students would sit alone on each seat unless they have a sibling or another child from the same household.

School Committee member Deborah A. Styckiewicz wanted to know what would be the protocol if a child tests positive for COVID-19. Clark said the district has received detailed health protocols from the state, which has been turned over to Lisa Sanders, the director of Public Health, and the district’s nursing staff. Clark praised Sanders for the level of communication and noted that each school will have an assigned isolation room for students who may be positive to stay in until parents can pick them up.

Styckiewicz then asked if screening could be done when students enter the building. Clark said no, but each family will have a set of health questions to answer daily.  

Wojcik also asked if the district could mandate a physical for all students prior to their attending school. Clark said that would not be possible but the district will be sure students have had their vaccinations. She added that any students who had been in a COVID-19 hot spot state would have to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Clark said the district has already purchased sufficient protective gear for the year. School Committee member Sandra Peret asked if the protective clothing including goggles and Clark said yes. Peret suggested having required training to properly know how to put it on and take it off.

Clark said part of the professional development days would be dedicated to that training.

Tanhauser wanted to know about the plans for special education. Francis said that high needs groups would have priority for face-to-face education, according to directions from the state.

School Committee member Mary-Beth Pniak-Costello asked about testing for the disease for the staff. Clark said there is no requirement from the state.

Pniak-Costello asked of MCAS could be delayed for four years. Clark said the district could not opt out of the test but there is discussion at the state level about the immediate future of the test.

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