Attleboro High School building

Attleboro HIgh School is sticking with a hybrid learning approach after a close call with the school committee.

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ATTLEBORO — The school board has voted to keep the city’s public schools in the hybrid model as it continues to monitor coronavirus case numbers from the state.

The board took two votes on Monday night, one for the elementary/middle school levels and one for the high school.

For the former, the vote was 9-0 to remain hybrid. There was more concern about the high school, and that vote was 7-2. Voting no were Rob Geddes and Lynn Porto.

The state recommends waiting for three weeks of data before changing education models so that students and families are not constantly disrupted by switching back and forth.

The votes were taken because the city entered the coronavirus red, or high-incidence, zone last week when it registered a daily average of 9.3 cases per 100,000 people over a 14-day period.

The red zone indicates a daily average of more than 8 cases per 100,000 people.

Six weeks ago the city was at 3.1 daily cases and gradually increased to last week’s 9.3.

If numbers go up or are otherwise a cause for concern, the board could meet in a special session to decide if further action is needed before its next scheduled meeting on Oct. 19.

A decision on a special meeting was not likely to be made until Thursday at the earliest.

The choice is between the hybrid model and full-time remote learning.

The hybrid model puts kids in classrooms two days a week and keeps them at home for remote learning three days week.

Most of the committee agreed with member Bill Larson, who urged colleagues to postpone a decision on changing the model. He argued school data that showed just six cases last week indicates the schools are safe for now.

“I don’t think it’s a prudent time to make a decision on anything,” he said. “I think the data shows we have time.”

Rob Geddes and Lynn Porto held another view, that the overall city data showed the high school should go to the remote mode next week.

“I’d rather not wait to see what the numbers are,” Geddes said.

Porto pointed out that the coronavirus numbers that put the city in the red zone last week have been climbing steadily for weeks.

School Superintendent David Sawyer had pointed out the same trend and said he’s especially worried about the high school students because they are less “compliant” than students at the lower levels. He also said they are allowed to move throughout the school and as a result have more close contacts with others.

An outbreak of 12 cases at the fire department may have contributed to the higher numbers in the city, although they have been rising for six consecutive weeks.

Sturdy Memorial Hospital also had an outbreak with four patient and 10 employee cases.

However it’s not known how many of the fire department and hospital cases included Attleboro residents, on which the city numbers are based.

The number of cases statewide has been increasing over the last three weeks, reaching a total of 3,982 confirmed cases last week, which was about 1,400 more than the week before.

The state has not had a number that high since the week ending May 30, when 4,639 cases were recorded.

One high school parent, Nancy Bloch, has started a petition to keep the high school open in the hybrid model unless there’s a marked increase in cases and students are getting sick from being in school.

At the moment, that’s not happening.

“Right now hybrid learning is the best option for our high school,” she said.

Bloch said she has about 360 signatures so far.

Meanwhile, the number of cases in the schools overall went down by one to six last week.

All told there have been 19 cases, which include 18 students and one staff member.

All the cases were contracted outside of school, according to school officials.

So far, 209 students and staff members have been isolated or quarantined.

Out of that number, 71 have returned to school leaving 138 remaining at home.

Sawyer said the distribution of cases is roughly even among the three school levels.

There have been five cases at the elementary level, six cases in the middle schools and seven cases in the high school.

Just one staff member has tested positive, he said.

George W. Rhodes can be reached at 508-236-0432.

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