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Groton plans to reopen schools on Sept. 8 under hybrid model

Groton — The Groton school district will begin classes on Sept. 8 under a hybrid model, with safety protocols, such as mask wearing and social distancing, in place when children attend in person.

Under the hybrid model, a student will attend school in person two days a week and learn remotely for the other three days, Superintendent Michael Graner said in a phone interview Wednesday.

The school district will split students into two cohort groups according to the alphabet and also keep children in the same family in the same group. The first group will attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the second group will learn remotely, according to Graner. The schools will close on Wednesdays for cleaning. The second group then will attend school in person on Thursdays and Fridays, while the first group stays home to learn remotely.

The district sent out an online form, due Friday, to parents so they can choose between enrolling their children in the hybrid model, or full distance learning, he said. Parents will be able to change their preference if they want to move from hybrid to full remote learning, or from full remote to hybrid.

The Board of Education had voted 8-1 Monday — with Elizabeth Porter opposed due to safety concerns about students returning to school — to reopen schools under the hybrid model.

Graner said school officials will monitor on a daily basis how the hybrid model is working. He recommends formally reassessing five to six weeks after the schools reopen to make sure the hybrid model is meeting the needs of families.

Graner said the results of a parent survey earlier this summer showed that one third of parents would not send their children to school, if schools fully reopened.

He said 89% of teachers who responded to a survey preferred the hybrid model, over a full reopening, while 86% of paraprofessionals responding to a survey also preferred the hybrid model.

Graner said the hybrid model allows the district to implement five mitigation strategies developed in consultation with the state Department of Public Health, including maximizing social distancing, which wouldn’t have been feasible with 22 to 24 children in a classroom. He said he wanted to reduce the amount of anxiety parents and staff feel about the return to school and increase their trust by implementing mitigation strategies to make it safe for children.

He said the district is requiring mask wearing for children and staff, with a few exceptions, such as for certain medical conditions; maximizing social distancing in the buildings; providing regular opportunities for children to wash their hands; recommissioning all ventilation systems throughout the district to ensure they are operating at their design capacity; and grouping students into cohorts.

Fewer students in school each day

Since each child will go to school in person only two days a week under the hybrid model, the schools will operate at a reduced capacity of about 50% fewer children, Graner said.

At the elementary level, students will be assigned to small cohorts of about 8 to 10 children. The children will remain in a classroom with their cohort and their teacher to minimize contact with other children and staff, Graner explained. The children will eat lunch in their classroom, with the goal of holding all special lessons, such as art and music, in the classroom and also holding physical education classes either outdoors or in the classroom.

Similarly, middle school students will be assigned to a team cohort of about 10 students to restrict their interaction with other students and staff, Graner said. However, there may be some blending of students from different teams for certain classes, such as an art or engineering elective.

Graner said assigning students to small cohorts is not academically feasible at the high school, but there will be at least 50% fewer students in the building each day under the hybrid model. The school will develop traffic patterns for the hallways, hold gym classes outdoors and not allow eating in the cafeteria.

The state Department of Education provided the district with medical protocols to follow for different scenarios, such as if a child or staff member exhibits COVID-19 symptoms or does not have symptoms but has come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. Graner said the district will share the protocols with nursing staff and parents.

Preparing for reopening

Graner said recent Board of Education meetings have been well attended, and parents have requested more details about the plan.

About 200 people are participating in focus groups, which started meeting two weeks ago and have provided feedback on the reopening plan, Graner said. Administrators will outline health and safety protocols to the parents next week, and likely discuss details of the hybrid model and distance learning the following week.

Over the summer, about 200 teachers worked to develop remote learning plans, he said.

The district, which has a technology plan in which every child has a computer, purchased additional Chromebooks to replace any that were damaged, as well as tablets for younger children, he said.

School officials are digging into the details for the school reopening, including how to handle an anticipated increase in parents driving their children to and from school, he said.

The Board of Education voted last month to reopen schools to students on Sept. 8, which will give teachers seven days of preparation before students return, he said.

k.drelich@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the Board of Education's vote.

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