There likely will be more questions than answers next Wednesday when school officials convene at Town Hall to chart a course for the resumption of classes next September.
But with the clock ticking and scores of coronavirus-related details still in play, administrators say faculty and staff need as much time as possible to prepare for what is hopefully a safe and successful start-up, even if plans have to be tweaked on the fly later.
With time of the essence, Chairman Richard Pearson confirmed that he expects school committee members to vote immediately on the back-to-school framework recommended by Superintendent Amy Berdos.
While careful not to disclose details prematurely, Berdos has said that Foxboro’s re-entry plan would reflect one of three primary options: returning students for in-classroom instruction with strict safety protocols, resuming the remote learning program imposed last spring, or pursuing a hybrid approach with students rotating between in-school and at-home settings.
This week, she also suggested that modified re-entry frameworks could be tailored for use at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
“There are so many layers to these plans,” Berdos said during a school board work session Monday afternoon.
“We won’t have all the answers — it’s all going to be last minute.”
As if to underscore the fluid nature of decision-making, state education and union leaders on Monday abruptly announced that the 2020-21 academic year would be delayed by at least two weeks — maintaining that more time was needed for additional training and planning.
Foxboro schools had been scheduled to reopen on Tuesday, Sept. 1.
While educators still believe that in-classroom instruction provides the most effective learning environment, logistical challenges remain — many stemming from the practical consequences of complying with required social distancing guidelines.
Among the most vexing affect bus transportation. According to school business administrator William Yukna, social distancing protocols limit seating capacity on school buses to roughly 26 students, less than half of the 55-student average for elementary routes.
In response, committee members on Monday moved to formalize Yukna’s suggestion to suspend Foxboro’s long-standing practice of transporting students living more than a mile from their respective schools and adopt a policy with a two-mile standard instead.
Envisioned as a temporary measure while coronavirus restrictions remain in effect, this would significantly reduce the number of students who qualify to ride the school bus.
“We’re not doing this because we want to change it to two miles,” Yunka said of proposed changes to the school transportation policy. “We’re doing it specifically because of a reduction in bus capacity.”
Should conditions improve in upcoming months, administrators may opt to scale back the two-mile radius, Yukna said.
Such changes almost certainly would require redrawing bus routes in mid-stream, a scenario already envisioned by the town’s transportation managers.
In game-panning for the September start-up, school officials also pledged to step up communication with parents, providing regular status reports on coronavirus impacts no matter which re-entry plan ultimately is adopted.
Pointing out that the state has been releasing information in “dribs and drabs,” freshman board member Michelle Raymond said that parents will be clamoring for good news, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
“I know that parents are going to be concerned about wearing masks,” Berdos added. “And they are going to want to know how their children are doing wearing masks.”
Finally, despite coronavirus-related impacts on team or group pursuits like athletics, extra-curriculars or even the school music program, it appears that some customs are worth preserving, such as the regular “Teaching & Learning Highlights” segment at school committee meetings.
Committee members vowed to continue the popular feature, which encourages faculty members and students to report on academic programs or notable classroom activities, even if it means participating remotely.
“It would put more normalcy back into our meetings,” Assistant Superintendent Alison Mello said.
“I think it grounds us as a school committee very effectively,” Person added.