The Island public schools are on track to begin full time in-person learning for students of all ages at the end of April, including high school students, superintendent Matt D’Andrea confirmed Monday.
Plans to bring the Island’s public school students back to the classroom with more regularity have been in the works since February when an order from Gov. Charlie Baker and education commissioner Jeffrey Riley directed all commonwealth districts to phase out remote learning for elementary and middle school students beginning this spring.
An updated version of the order released by the governor in mid-March requires elementary schools to reopen their classrooms full-time by April 5, while middle schools must begin fully in-person instruction on April 28. Concrete guidance for returning high schoolers to the classroom was not included in the order and will be released later in April, school officials said.
Reached by phone Monday, Mr. D’Andrea said the Vineyard school system was on track to meet the state’s orders, and bring high school students back to the classroom five days a week, beginning after the spring vacation which begins April 19.
“I think it’s best for our students to be in [the building],” Mr. D’Andrea told the Gazette by phone Monday. “In-person education is more effective for our kids.”
Already, the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools are operating in-person five days a week, while the Edgartown and Oak Bluffs schools plan to expand their schedules to five-day weeks next Monday, Mr. D’Andrea said. The Tisbury School, whose fifth through eighth-grade classes have been alternating in-person and remote learning each week, will begin full time in-person instruction for all its students after the spring vacation.
All five elementary schools are also planning to transition to longer school days either this week or after the vacation following nearly a year of a shortened schedule, said Mr. D’Andrea.
The school re-entry progress has been bolstered by a recent change in CDC guidelines for school social distancing that allows students to be three rather than six feet apart, Mr. D’Andrea said. The change has resolved several spacing issues, particularly at the Tisbury school and the regional high school, where small classrooms have complicated previous moves to bring students back full-time.
The schools plan to still enforce six-foot distancing when possible and use three-foot spacing only when needed, he said.
A smooth-running virus testing program at the schools and more recently, vaccinations for faculty and staff members have also helped move the process along.
“We’re having staff feeling more comfortable being in the building because of the testing and because of the vaccination,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “With all that in place, and knowing that we want to bring our students back, that’s the direction we’re going.”
According to Mr. D’Andrea, of the 530 staff members to express interest in the vaccine, just under 300 faculty members have already received at least one dose of vaccine through the two clinics. Many of the others have received their vaccinations individually, he said.