by JohnCarl McGrady, editor in chief
While nothing is finalized, leadership in the school administration has suggested that the most likely course of action for the high school this September will be a delayed start in the middle of the month and a so-called “hybrid model” that will combine remote learning and face-to-face instruction.
Heading into the 2020-21 school year, one of the top concerns facing Nantucket High School (NHS), and the Nantucket Public School (NPS) system in general, is the novel coronavirus. New principal Mandy Vasil, starting her first year at NHS, has been clear that nothing is finalized. “More details are still being worked out,” she said, “updates will be shared…as we have more information.”
NPS has sent out surveys to parents and students, requesting various information, including whether they will need access to the buses, what model they would prefer, and whether their students will be able to attend face-to-face classes.
Vasil said that the decisions made by NHS and NPS “are being informed through research and connections with other school districts as well as [Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] guidance. And of course…input from our surveys.”
Another, new, source of input for school administration has been the student committee, a small group of students assembled to give feedback on the school’s plans and share what they hope will happen in the fall, as well as what didn’t work last spring.
The hybrid plan that the school plans to use next fall involves four different cohorts of students, also referred to by some as bubbles. Cohort A represents high-need students who require in person education and will be in the building four days a week for face-to-face instruction. Cohorts B and C are the hybrid students, with Cohort B being in school Monday and Tuesday and Cohort C being in school Thursday and Friday. Dividing the students up like this allows for social distancing precautions to be taken in school, and also means that Wednesday can be used for cleaning. Nobody will be in school on Wednesday.
Cohort D is comprised of students who opt to go completely virtual. While more students taking this route would ease the burden on educators and make social distancing easier, most students on the student committee cited a lack of accountability as one of the biggest problems with remote learning last spring, something in-person classes help to mitigate.
Vasil has also said, however, that the school administration has taken a careful look at last spring, and has plans to improve remote learning this fall. For example, it seems likely that grades will be assigned on a normal, lettered and percent based scale in the coming fall, rather than in the not engaged, partially engaged, fully engaged fashion from the spring, a metric the student committee found overly simplistic and de-motivating.
Tension over the school’s plan has surged recently as around the country, coronavirus cases recently hit their all-time peak as outbreaks exploded in the south. While some argue this explosion is a second wave, and others argue it is a progression of the first wave, what is clear is that coronavirus is not contained on a national level, though cases have now begun to drop again.
Even in Massachusetts, one of the states generally agreed to have suppressed the pandemic comparatively well, cases are up 50% from their low two weeks ago. In certain southern states, such as Georgia, schools have already opened, opting for a completely in person model and often not enforcing mask wearing. This has alarmed some critics, who fear that the densely packed hallways and classrooms could lead to a surge in cases in the states were schools have reopened, while proponents of the plan have focused on the benefits of in-person education over virtual education and the low mortality rate faced by younger victims of coronavirus. However, some have pointed out that this metric may discount the teachers who are also in the classrooms.
Other areas, including most major urban centres and their nearby suburbs, are planning to go fully remote, with New York City as a notable exception. Nantucket, instead, has decided to tread the line between the two, as local cases have continued to skyrocket in recent weeks, nearly tripling from late June. Most of these cases, however, were identified in tourists, and are believed to have been contracted off island.
Recently, rumours have begun to circulate that many off-island residents have decided to remain on Nantucket for the fall and have enrolled their students in the public school system. The number of new students ranges from 50 to upwards of 700, depending on the rumour, but at least as of yet, the rumours seem to have no basis in reality. The school has not released any information to suggest a notable uptick in enrollment, and multiple educators within the district have claimed the rumours are fabricated.