Concord’s middle and high school to be remote til Jan. 18, pitch made for winter sports

Monitor staff
Published: 11/19/2020 1:27:13 PM
Modified: 11/19/2020 1:27:02 PM

Concord High School and Rundlett Middle School will switch to remote learning at the end of Thanksgiving break, the superintendent confirmed Wednesday.

At a meeting of the Concord School Board’s instructional committee, interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy recommended to the board that the two schools switch to remote learning from Nov. 30 to Jan. 18.

Murphy is making this decision without a board vote, because part of the board’s Nov. 12 vote to remain in hybrid included the condition that Murphy could switch the middle and high school to remote after Thanksgiving if there was not enough staff.

“That remote would look like how it looked in the fall,” Murphy said. “Synchronous learning, face to face with youngsters, on schedules at both of the schools." 

Murphy’s decision is related to Thanksgiving travel: with the number of teachers who are now planning to travel and then quarantine after Thanksgiving break, there will not be enough employees in the buildings to support hybrid learning, Murphy said.

In addition, Murphy said the number of students who will be traveling over Thanksgiving is higher than they expected.

“My issue is the number of students traveling with families and all of the holiday gathering at Thanksgiving,” Murphy said. “We saw what happened with voting day and Halloween, and we saw the results of that. We had a terrific spike.”

Like the model used in September, certain middle and high school students can still learn in the buildings, including CRTC students, students with IEPs and 504 plans, English language learners and students who are unhoused, based on staffing availability.

Elementary schools will remain in the hybrid model, although the school district has opened the opportunity for elementary school families to switch to remote. The deadline for requesting the switch is  Nov. 20. As of Wednesday,  there were 12 requests from elementary school families to switch to remote, according to assistant superintendent Donna Palley. 

New decision-making guidelines in progress

Murphy is still working on a new decision matrix for the district, which helps school officials decide when to switch between learning models based on COVID-19 risk. For the past several weeks, the district has not been following its current protocols, which says all schools should be doing remote learning right now, based on the high levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community.

The district has received criticism from some parents and community members this week, who have expressed concerns that the district is not following its own policy. 

Murphy has explained her reasoning for deviating from district policy by saying that numbers and transmission within the schools are low.

“It was a tool, it was a guidance document for me to use,” Murphy said. “The issue for us is even with COVID around us, it was the low numbers that happened in our schools. It was no transmission.” 

Concord schools have had 13 COVID-19 cases so far this year, nine among students and four among employees. There have been no known instances of transmission within the schools.

Murphy announced Wednesday afternoon, hours before the board meeting, that another employee at Concord High School has tested positive for COVID-19. There was no mention of when the employee had last been in the school.

Murphy said she is interested in developing updated guidelines that consider each of Concord’s schools on an individual basis, rather than having a blanket decision that impacts the whole district. 

Will winter sports continue?

The Concord School Board’s instructional committee is recommending that the board approve winter sports to happen in person, despite the pandemic. 

At Wednesday’s meeting, CHS principal Michael Reardon and athletic director Steve Mello told the board that winter sports should proceed, because athletics are important to students’ social-emotional health.

"The fact that the high school is going to feel remote for a while, it's all the more important that we maintain our students’ connection to the school, to each other, to the community," Reardon said. “These are adolescents. They can’t stay home and not interact. It’s a huge part of their education, it's a huge part of their identity.”

Reardon also added that school-regulated sports are a safer option than travel tournament teams or pick-up basketball games that may not have strict safety protocols enforced.

“They’re going to play no matter what,” Reardon said. “If they’re playing in our programs, they are going to follow the rules that we establish and we expect.”

There were student-athletes from the girls’ basketball team and the boys’ wrestling team present at the meeting, and many spoke up during the public comment period in support of having winter sports.

One student said that having basketball practice after school regulates her schedule and helps keep her on track and motivated with her schoolwork. Another student spoke of the strong bonds he has formed with his wrestling teammates and, the positive influence his coaches have had on his life as male role models. 

The board discussed the logistics of doing winter sports during a pandemic, particularly sports like wrestling that require athletes to be in close contact with one another indoors.

CHS wrestling coach Ham Munnell told the board that wrestlers be divided into groups of pods of four for training to limit co-mingling. They would have one meet a week, so wrestlers would come in contact with one opponent a week from another team. 

Students would come to practices and games as dressed as possible, to limit the use of locker room spaces. The athletic department has purchased masks for every athlete.

Mello said they are trying to select opponent teams that are as local as possible, but some teams will have to play opponents who are farther away to find matching skill levels.

“We have to trust they are all going to screen their kids,” Mello said. “We try to keep it as local as we can, and the schedule will be much more limited than it is normally.”

The full school board will vote on whether to approve winter sports at a special meeting later this month.

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