Haverhill School Committee—Like Public—Finds No School Reopening Plan Addresses All Concerns

Haverhill School Superintendent Margaret Marotta displays disinfecting wipes at a meeting of the School Committee. (WHAV News file photograph.)

The Haverhill School Committee heard three plans last night for returning to school in the fall.

Those plans include an option for a full return to classrooms; a hybrid plan, where students would physically attend class two days per week and learning remotely the other three days; and the option of keeping the school buildings closed and continuing with online learning only.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta outlined those plans, saying that whichever way the city chooses to go, she feels confident that they will make it work.

“There’s a lot going on. There’s no right answer here. There will undoubtedly be bumps along the way but I am convinced that we have the people and the intelligence to make this work so, as we face issues, we’re going to fix them and we will figure it out as we move forward,” she said.

Marotta said that under the full return model, the biggest hurdle is keeping students safely distanced, particularly when it comes to school bus transportation. She did note that 20 percent of parents have indicated they will not be sending their children to school under this plan and that a remote learning option will still be provided.

Under the hybrid plan, students would be divided into two groups. The first would attend classes Monday and Tuesday and learn remotely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The second would go to school on Thursday and Friday and attend remotely the other three days of the week. Marotta said this plan allows for more distancing in the classroom but could be disruptive for working parents needing childcare.

The all remote learning option would be the safest for students and, with recorded lessons, would allow flexibility as to when students attended classes but, she said, many students, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, have struggled with this teaching method.

Not unlike the general population, School Committee members were divided on which plan they favored. Committee member Toni Sapienza-Donais said she favors keeping the schools closed until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, while fellow Committee member Gail M. Sullivan endorsed a slow, methodical approach. For his part, Mayor James J. Fiorentini expressed his desire to get kids back to class as soon as possible.

“Our kids deserve a first class, in-person education just as quickly and as safely as we can deliver it to them. We reopened the economy with a careful, phased-in approach. We reopened our city with nearly every business now open without any spike in cases. I believe we can reopen our schools in the same way,” he said.

Haverhill Education Association President Anthony J. Parolisi said there are many problems with remote learning, but the union seeks to save lives.

“Like our colleagues across the state, Haverhill’s educators want nothing more than to return to their classrooms to be with their students and provide them the best possible education. However, that same concern for our students’ well-being and education which pushes us to return to the physical building, is also pulling us to stay home for them and for each other—at least for a little while longer. As much as it pains us, current scientific data and public health guidelines tell us that it is not possible to return without hurting our community,” he said.

The committee voted unanimously to accept the three plans and submit them to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which will respond early next week. After that, there will be an opportunity for public input before the school committee completes its decision and submits it to the state by Aug. 10.

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