District officials also sought return to remote classes as they review HVAC reports.
SOUTH YARMOUTH — Superintendent Carol Woodbury asked the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School Committee late last week to approve a switch to a fully remote start to the school year but didn’t get the support she and other top administrators had hoped for, with members unwilling to make a quick decision.
Inspection reports on the ventilation systems for each of the school buildings did not arrive until shortly before the committee meeting Thursday and had yet to be reviewed.
Several district buildings are more than 50 years old and have documented problems with their heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
Assistant Superintendent Kenneth Jenks said the administration planned to go through the reports with an engineer to see whether there were shortcomings in the HVAC systems that had to be addressed before schools could reopen.
The district initially had planned to have students in kindergarten through seventh grade attend in-person classes daily starting Sept. 16, while students in grades 8 through 12 would attend in-person every other day.
Administrators on Thursday were looking to push the school start date to Sept. 21 and offer only remote classes until Oct. 5.
Making a decision to change the start date would allow parents some time to plan, Jenks said.
“I wish I was bringing different options to the committee,” Jenks said. “It is hard to make a decision until you have definitive information. If there are some HVAC issues that we can’t do in two or three days, we could get them scheduled.”
Woodbury had already been in touch with state officials about the possible change of plans. More than 700 iPads have been purchased, and parents will likely be able to pick them up so that pre-kindergartners and first, second and third graders could start working remotely.
Woodbury said adequate ventilation was just one part of the plan for a safe return to school, and the district has all other pieces, such as masks, social distancing and separation of students into cohorts, in place.
Some districts are looking at ways to improve ventilation in their schools that could be used at Dennis-Yarmouth as well, Woodbury said, such as opening windows, putting box fans in some areas, and even using air purifiers.
Although the information in the ventilation reports may affect the current plan for an in-school return and force a longer stretch of remote learning, “we don’t want to be like ‘the sky is falling,’” Woodbury said. “It’s too early to say we can’t open for months or something like that.”
Close to 75% of the district’s students want to return to in-school learning. While being unable to start with in-school classes is a little disappointing, the district is not alone, the superintendent said. “We know of some neighboring school districts that haven’t even seen their (HVAC inspection) reports yet,” she said.
School committee members voiced several objections.
Brian Sullivan saw no need to change plans. He asked whether any students got sick because of a school ventilation problem last year. Jenks said that kind of documentation is not kept.
“I’m not interested in remote at all,” Sullivan said. “I don’t see any evidence that would make me change my mind on that. I see no reason to change anything.”
Sullivan said he and 20 fellow employees have worked in a public building since May, meeting with people coming in off the street. “I probably sat within 3 feet of 200 people for 15 minutes or more,” he said. “Not one person I work with has gotten sick.”
Committee Chairwoman Jeni Landers pushed for school to start Sept. 16, as planned, whether it was remote or in-person. “As a committee member, I feel we’ve had since March to figure out remote learning,” she said. “As a parent, I can’t imagine going any longer without school for my child, even if it is remote.”
Teachers have expressed serious concerns over working in buildings that might have deficient ventilation systems. Union President Michelle Dunn said members have been asking to see the reports since early July.
Buildings were not inspected until mid-August because inspectors were not available.
School committee members told the administration they preferred to wait until the ventilation reports were reviewed to make the decision about the start of school. They asked the superintendent to schedule a meeting sometime this week.
“Until we know what’s in the report, I really don’t want to jump the gun and vote on this tonight,” Landers said.
The inspections might show that the HVAC systems in at least some of the schools are in acceptable condition or in need of just a few repairs, Landers said.
“There might be some repairs we can get done quickly, and we don’t have to go remote in all our schools for the whole rest of the month,” she said.
On Tuesday, a board meeting was posted for 5 p.m. Thursday. It will be held by Zoom videoconference, and the only item on the agenda is school reopening.
Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.