Amherst schools to go mostly remote this fall, with pre-K, 1st grade in person

  • Russ Johnson, an Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools employee, builds workspaces for students with special needs at Fort River Elementary School in preparation for students who may come back to school next month during COVID-19. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Russ Johnson, an Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools employee, builds workspaces for students with special needs at Fort River Elementary School in preparation for students who may come back to school next month during COVID-19. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Construction worker Robert Perreault puts a door between two classrooms where there used to just be a divider at Fort River. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Diane Chamberlain, the principal at Fort River Elementary School in Amherst, stands in a space that used to house four classrooms that’s being turned into two larger rooms. Amherst plans to bring lower grades back to in-person learning in stages during the fall. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 18, 2020

AMHERST — Most students in Amherst and Pelham public schools will be taught remotely until at least mid-November, based on an educational model adopted Thursday night.

Under the phase-in “Model 4,” as it is called, adopted unanimously by the Amherst, Amherst-Pelham Regional, and Pelham school committees, only students in what are known as priority groups will be educated in person at the elementary, middle and high schools when school starts Sept. 16.

Those priority groups include preschool through first grade in the Amherst schools and preschool through second grade in Pelham, beginner English language learners, Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE), students in specialized special education programs and homeless students.

Grades 2 and 3 in Amherst schools, and Grade 3 in Pelham, would return to in-classroom instruction in October, and Grades 4 through 6 would come back in November. Students in Grades 7 to 12 would also return to classrooms at that later date, though only for one day each week.

Superintendent Michael Morris said under the model chosen, “very few” students will be in the schools at the outset of the school year, with most doing all learning remotely until after Veterans Day.

“The model that just got voted in means that the vast majority of students in grades 2 to 12 will start in a virtual environment,” Morris said.

As part of the model, the committees also conditioned reopening on various health metrics related to COVID-19. Those metrics are still being modified. Under the current draft, a first phase reopening can occur when there are fewer than 75 cases per 100,000 population over a seven-day period and the test positivity rate is under 5% in Hampshire and Franklin counties. The current positivity rate is around 2%. A second phase can begin when there are fewer than 65 cases per 100,000 population and a positivity rate under 4% in the counties. The third phase starts when the metrics in the second phase are maintained.

Hadley and Hatfield

Meanwhile, different approaches are being taken in the smaller communities of Hadley and Hatfield, which each have their own elementary, middle and high schools.

In Hadley, the School Committee voted to have instruction done entirely remotely for a minimum of six weeks to begin the school year.

Committee Chairwoman Heather Klesch said the decision comes with a commitment to reexamine the data and metrics to move toward “in-person, cohort-based instruction” in the future.

Hopkins Academy and Hadley Elementary School students working remotely will be using Google Classroom for daily assignments.

In Hatfield, the School Committee voted 3-2 in favor of a hybrid plan, as recommended by the administration, said Committee Chairwoman Jill Robinson.

Under this plan, younger students at Hatfield Elementary School will be in classrooms either by the day or by the week, with other students learning remotely. A gradual phase-in is still being developed by the administration.

At Smith Academy, seventh and eighth graders would be in class four days a week, ninth and 10th graders two days a week, and juniors and seniors would be fully remote learning for the fall semester.

Highest-need students would get in-person instruction, and families will have the ability to opt out for all-remote instruction.

“The plan’s implementation will be constantly monitored to promote health and safety, and we will continually assess outcomes for students both academically and social emotionally,” Superintendent Martin McEvoy said in an email.