Haverhill School Committee Votes 4-1 for Hybrid Remote/In-Person School Reopenings

Tilton Elementary School (Jay Saulnier file photograph for WHAV News.)

After months of research, discussion and community input, the decision on how schools will open next month was decided at last night’s Haverhill School Committee meeting.

By a vote of 4-1 and one abstention the Committee agreed to the hybrid model championed by School Superintendent Margaret Marotta. The plan calls for a gradual phasing in of in-school learning over a four-week period. It also makes available a fully remote learning academy for students who wish to stay home. Mayor James J. Fiorentini explained the reasoning behind the plan.

“Many of the parents I’ve talked to have very legitimate concerns and they should be able to do remote. I think we should be limited to a 50 percent capacity, then we can distance the way the state has recommended—the six-foot distancing. The kids that need highest in-person learning—and that would be the special needs students, some of the kids just have to be in school,” he explained.

The mayor’s assessment was backed up by Haverhill school pediatrician John L. Maddox who noted that the city’s COVID-19 transmission rate of 1.2 percent is about half of the state’s rate and well below the 5 percent rate the state has determined would necessitate closing schools.

“I think that if the School Committee would give the superintendent and the administration with a vote to offer an in-person option, I think that would be a wonderful thing for a lot of kids as long as it is safe to open and I believe right now, in terms of the community transmission rate, it is as safe a time as any,” he said.

Not all committee members agreed. Toni Sapienza-Donais, was the lone vote for the full-remote model.

“I will not be supporting any type of in-person plan or hybrid plan. I feel that it is just not feasible. I believe also that the best way to describe it is that we’re playing Russian roulette with our students and our staff,” she said.

Also not supporting the school plan was Committee member Maura L. Ryan-Ciardiello, who abstained from voting, saying she still has too many questions to make an informed decision.

Prior to the vote, the meeting began with comments and questions from Haverhill parents and teachers who, once again, overwhelming favored a remote opening plan and slowly introducing the hybrid model.

Parents will receive specific guidance directly from the school administration.

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