As Foxboro schools round out week two of an unprecedented shutdown with no clear end in sight, local educators this week said they cannot predict how the 2019-20 school year might end.
But in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, they have redoubled efforts to provide structured remote learning experiences for students and families who unexpectedly find themselves at home in self-isolation.
Just hours after Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all non-essential businesses closed to limit further spread of the COVID-19 virus, school officials on Monday gathered in special session to publicly outline rapidly-evolving plans for at-home learning.
According to Superintendent Amy Berdos, efforts to date have focused on connecting with students and families, with faculty reaching out via e-mail, phone or social media.
Berdos acknowledged that educators cannot realistically duplicate classroom learning for students at home, but rather are striving to maintain continuity in both routine and curriculum by providing enrichment activities.
“We’re looking at this week-by-week,” Berdos said. “It really is important for us to remain as flexible as possible.”
Following the lead of state education commissioner Jeffrey Riley, Berdos said local teachers thus far have refrained from introducing formal lesson plans covering new material.
“Our marching orders from the state were to provide continuity of curriculum through learning experiences,” she said.
Berdos said that Riley has emphasized the need to provide equal learning opportunities to all households, including those with varying levels of in-home technology or access. With this in mind, school-owned laptops have been provided for some local families.
Berdos also raised concerns over growing competition for online resources among family members, especially in households with parents now working from home and/or college-age siblings taking online courses.
“There is a great concern for equity and accessibility,” she said.
Monday afternoon’s special meeting was held at town hall with participants spaced at safe distances throughout the meeting room and board member Brent Reuter teleconferencing from home.
All school buildings currently remain closed except for central administration offices at the Igo School, which are operating on an 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. schedule.
While trying to provide clarity for local families, officials acknowledged that just as many questions remain.
Foremost among them is whether students will return to local classrooms this year, an issue which ultimately will be determined by public health officials and not educators. If classes do resume, however, no one yet knows whether curriculum requirements will be relaxed or MCAS standards waived.
Assistant Superintendent Alison Mello confirmed that high school students taking AP courses will be tested at home this year based on content through the month of March.
An executive order issued March 15 closed Massachusetts schools until April 6, but there are few signs the shutdown will be lifted at that time.
“We’ll just have to navigate this as the overall game plan becomes clearer,” Mello said.
Berdos did say that students almost certainly would not receive 180 days of classroom instruction this year.
“This is an unprecedented time,” she said. “We’re going to do the absolute best we can.”
Foxboro’s last day of school tentatively had been scheduled for June 17, with provisions for five additional snow days if needed, although the state could yet extend the school year as late as June 30.
“It is something that definitely is being discussed,” Berdos said.
Uncertainties also loom over Foxboro High School’s traditional graduation ceremonies, scheduled for Sunday, June 7.
Speaking for families with high school seniors, school committee Chairwoman Tina Belanger pledged that graduating seniors would be recognized in some fashion even if commencement has to be canceled.
“We are going to do something for our students,” said Belanger, who noted that caps, gowns and diplomas already have been ordered.
For high school athletes, the spring sports season also remains a question mark.
School board member Richard Pearson, who serves as associate executive director for the MIAA, said a best-case scenario could have sports starting on April 27 — if, that is, schools are allowed to resume April 6.
The cut-off date for commencing regular-season games would be June 10.
“It appears to me it’s going to be a shortened season in some capacity,” Pearson said. “It absolutely will look different.”