School Committee Approves Hybrid Learning

On Monday, August 17, the Sanford School Committee voted unanimously to approve the administration’s recommended hybrid learning model to start the school year. Hybrid learning is the name being given to the model that is somewhere between full-time in-person education, and fully remote, or distance, learning.

Under the hybrid model, students in grades Pre-K through 4, and many special education students, will attend school in person five days a week, with Wednesday being an early release day. The Pre-K through grade 4 schedule could be reduced to a two days a week if safety precautions cannot be adhered to.

Students in grades 5 through 12 will be split into two groups. Group A will attend in-person classes on Monday and Thursday, and attend via a live video feed from the classroom on Tuesday and Friday. Group B will have in-person classes on Tuesday and Friday, and have the video feed on Monday and Thursday. SRTC students will be in school four days a week. Grades 5-12 and SRTC will all have Wednesday as a remote learning day.

All students will have the option to choose fully remote learning. Bethany Lambert, Curriculum Director for the Department, gave a presentation on the Calvert Learning program which has been chosen for the K-4 students who select the full remote option. Calvert will provide the online lessons but parents will need to supervise and assist their students. The School Department will grade, monitor and provide support.

Parents of students in grades 5-8 may also choose the Calvert program instead of the classroom video feed. It is not available for grades 9-12 as it doesn’t provide enough credits.

Several parents and teachers spoke during the public participation segments of the meeting, both in person and via Zoom. Many voiced support for the school administrators and recognized the difficulty of the job they are doing. Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson addressed many of their concerns, as well as other questions received via email.

One major concern expressed by many parents is the inclusion of fifth and sixth graders on the split schedule with the high school students. While Superintendent Nelson agreed that it is not an ideal plan for those grades, he explained that due to space limitations, there is no way to have fifth and sixth graders in school full time, and still meet the state’s requirement for social distancing.

There were several questions for which the administration had no firm answers at this time, including whether there will be any athletic programs, and who will provide academic support to parents of distance learning students. Superintendent Nelson emphasized that the reopening plan is a work in progress.

After all questions had been addressed, School Committee members each had an opportunity to speak. “We want certainty, and that’s not possible,” said Kendra Williams, adding that it is critical for parents and teachers to understand the key word is flexibility. “We can make a decision tonight, and it could change next week.”

Chair Don Jamison said he trusted the administration to do what’s best for the schools and the community. John Roux read a statement from Jonathan Mapes, who was unable to attend. Mr. Mapes wrote that there was no way everyone would be satisfied with whatever plan was chosen, but the administration should be allowed to do the job they were hired to do. He advocated to begin planning now for a robust summer school session.

Although the hybrid plan was approved to start the school year, issues with the construction at Margaret Chase Smith School and the Middle School have caused the official start date to be pushed back to Monday, September 14. The School Committee will meet again on August 24 and changes to the reopening plan could be made at that time. The current reopening plan is posted here on the School Department’s website.

The full meeting can be viewed here.

The form sent to parents last week to indicate their choice of in-school learning, full distance learning, or homeschooling is due back Wednesday, August 19. Parents may change their preference before school starts. If parents choose the full distance option for their children, or elect to withdraw from the district to homeschool, they can only change to in-school learning at the end of a marking period. If in-school learning is chosen, students may switch to distance learning at any time.