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North Adams Schools to Begin Hybrid Instruction on Sept. 21
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
07:16PM / Tuesday, September 08, 2020
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The School Committee approved an agreement with the teachers' union that would begin hybrid learning on Sept. 21. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee and the teachers' union have signed an agreement to begin the shift from remote to partial in-school learning starting Sept. 21. 
 
All students — except those who have opted for full remote — are expected to be on the hybrid schedule by Oct. 8. 
 
The committee voted in August to start the year fully remote on Sept. 15 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the transition to a hybrid learning plan open-ended until a memorandum of agreement could be negotiated with the North Adams Teachers Association.
 
The NATA voted on Saturday to agree to the plan; the committee voted on Tuesday evening to endorse it 6-1, with committee member Tara Jacobs voting against. 
 
"It was a process that was rooted in ... the reopening plan that was developed by the district leadership team and members of the NATA bargaining unit, it was informed by the August meeting of the School Committee," said Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman. 
 
The school system has already set up school opening updates for Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 6:30 p.m. for prekindergarten through Grade 6 and Thursday, Sept. 10, at 6:30 p.m. for Grades 7-12. A question-and-answer session for all grades will be held on Friday, Sept. 11, at 11 a.m. 
 
Parents and guardians can register for the sessions here. Superintendent Barbara Malkas' letter explaining the transition is here. 
 
All students will begin school on the Canvas learning management system on Tuesday, Sept. 15. 
 
Thursday, Sept. 17: prekindergarten and certain special programs including the Adult Transition and the Drury Off-Campus programs at the Armory will begin in person. 
 
• Monday, Sept. 21: Students in cohort A, Grades K-3 & 7-8 begin a hybrid schedule. 
 
• Thursday, Sept. 24: Students in cohort B, Grades K-3 & 7-8 begin a hybrid schedule. 
 
• Monday, Sept. 28: Students in cohort A, Grades 4-6 & 9-10 begin a hybrid schedule.
 
Thursday, Oct. 1: Students in cohort B, Grades 4-6 & 9-10 begin a hybrid schedule.
 
• Monday, Oct. 5: Students in cohort A, Grades 11-12 begin. 
 
• Thursday, Oct. 8: Students in cohort B, Grades 11-12 begin. 
 
As presented by the administration last month, students will be in school for partial days with everyone remote on Wednesday to allow for enhanced cleaning within the school buildings for the novel coronavirus.  
 
Superintendent Barbara Malkas reminded the committee that the public schools had implemented a remote-learning plan in the spring that ended on July 31.  
 
"We entered into negotiations this year following the conclusion and acceptance of the pandemic recovery plan that was submitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education," she said, adding, "the parameters of the larger pandemic recovery plan are incorporated into this MOA." 
 
The plans cover such issues as the gradual integration of hybrid learning, the parameters for synchronous learning, health metrics for North Adams and the surrounding communities, and an agreement on inspections of the school buildings' air exchangers and filtration systems. 
 
"There is a lot of work to be done in order to schedule our students, being able to provide opportunities for workshops and training for families," Malkas said. "Also really making sure that we're scheduling our staff, so that we have sufficient staff to be able to provide remote teaching for remote-learning students, but also be able to provide in-person instruction for our students."
 
The negotiations were handled by the mayor and School Committee members Karen Bond and Jacobs with the bargaining team from NATA. Malkas and the mayor thanked NATA co-Presidents Michelle Darling and Lisa Tanner for the leadership and responsiveness. 
 
Committee member Ian Bergeron said he still had some concerns about the language on mask use in the MOA.
 
"I'm hopeful that when this is put into place that people recognize the sentiment of the document," he said. "It is intended to protect students, it's also intended to allow teachers the ability to allow for exceptions and mask use when it is necessary, and not as a common practice throughout the day."
 
Bernard said health and safety of students, families and staff was a priority and public health data will continue to inform the school system's plans. The choices in the MOA creates will allow for a "quick phase" in hybrid learning while still keeping the remote option open for those families who chose it, he said.
 
"I think it's going to be important because as we are data driven, we don't know how long we will be able to just sustain a hybrid model, so the importance of connectivity and connection among students and teachers for as long as we can have it is an important piece of this," he said. 
 
Committee Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger said she wanted to make sure educators had the resources they needed. 
 
"And then the second thing that I want to say is about some of the language and the MOA is big about is in social distancing," she said. "And I think it's imperative that our parents and community leaders, serve as role models, to make sure that their children understand how important it is to wear your masks and to socially distance, when in school and when in your classroom to make sure we're keeping everybody as safe as possible. ...
 
"I'm just asking everybody to be kind, to be compassionate, to be patient because we're going to need all of that to get through this."
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