By SCOTT JACKSON
Students at Quincy’s two high schools could to return to the classroom on a part-time basis as soon as October under the re-opening timeline approved by the School Committee, nearly one month earlier than initially planned.
Students from pre-kindergarten to grade three will begin the year learning under a hybrid model with a mix of in-person and remote learning; certain high-need students at all grade levels will also receive in-person instruction. Other students in grades four through twelve will begin the year learning remotely.
Under the initial phased-in approach proposed by school officials, students in grades four through eight could have moved from remote to hybrid learning as soon as Tuesday, Oct. 13, the day after Columbus Day, with high school students making the transition as early as Monday, Nov. 9.
The School Committee on Wednesday, however, unanimously approved moving up the high school transition date to Oct. 13. An additional committee vote will be required before any grade levels can move from the remote model to the hybrid one. The committee will use public health metrics to make that decision.
Parents have the choice to opt out of the hybrid model and have their children learn remotely instead. Between 50 and 60 percent of students in pre-kindergarten to grade three will begin the year at home learning remotely.
Mayor Thomas Koch, the chairman of the committee, had suggested moving up the transition date for high schoolers. Koch said children in other countries have been able to return to class amid the coronavirus pandemic without getting sick, and also expressed concerns about students’ social and emotional wellbeing if remote learning continues too long.
“I think the lookback on all of this a year or two out is going to be far more damaging on the mental health side, the social side. I’m really concerned about that,” he said.
“Also, under the law, our teachers and staff are reporters when they observe things. And these kids don’t all come from perfect homes and that is the opportunity when there has to be an intervention because something is occurring. We’ve been missing out on that too.”
The mayor said health officials have learned since March that precautions that would be in place in schools, such as wearing masks, frequent hand washing and distancing requirements, can slow the spread of the virus.
“We know that this works,” Koch said, holding up a mask. “We know washing the hands works. We know social distancing works.”
Koch also noted Quincy has been designated as a green, or low-risk, community by the Department of Public Health since mid-August; green communities have an average daily case rate of fewer than four per 100,000 residents in the last two weeks. He asked Health Commissioner Ruth Jones if the high school transition date could be moved up in light of that.
Jones said it could be possible for all students in grades four through twelve to move from remote to hybrid on the same date provided the health metrics support doing so at the time.
“If the data continues in the direction it’s going, from a public health perspective I think that could be a possibility,” Jones said.
Superintendent Kevin Mulvey noted the initial phase-in plan had been created earlier in the summer while Quincy was a yellow, or moderate-risk, community, and said the committee could consider moving high schoolers to the hybrid model sooner because the case rate in the city has improved since then.
“Since we’ve been in the green for a month, which is excellent…that’s certainly something the School Committee could consider,” Mulvey said.
The committee on Wednesday also approved the metrics that will be used to determine if students can transition from remote to hybrid. Those same metrics will also be used to decide whether students need to move from hybrid to fully remote.
The metrics require Quincy to be designated a green community or an unshaded by the DPH in order for the committee to consider transitioning more students to the hybrid model; unshaded communities have fewer than five total active cases.
Other metrics will include the number of cases among residents ages 18 and under the city, the number of cases among Quincy Public Schools students and staff, the number of QPS students with cases in their household, and data from communities where school teachers and staff reside. Jones will compile that information into a chart that will be color coded in the same manner as the DPH maps.