Windham picks combination hybrid, full in-person model

JULIE HUSS/Staff photoThe Windham High School mascot, the jaguar, is wearing some stylish safety these days, sporting a mask as he is perched at the front of the high school building off London Bridge Road.

WINDHAM — The school district has a plan in place to return students to school, combining a hybrid option and full-return model for specific grades along with a remote learning option for families to choose.

Hearing back from 96% of the district’s families as to what they might choose as a learning option helped make a final decision.

The school board voted Aug. 11 to approve an in-person model for grades K-2 and a hybrid/remote alternating days option for grades 3-12.

Board members separated the final decisions into several votes, taking each grade level group as an individual motion to approve.

Survey results were presented at the recent meeting, with top tallies going to a full in-person plan at 52.96%; for a blended option, 24% responded they were in favor and a full remote learning plan for all came in with 19.51% of families being in favor.

“After reviewing the information and hearing from each building leader, it became evident to us that currently the safest and most equitable options for our students and staff is a hybrid model for grades 3-12, and a full return model for grades K-2, with a full remote option available for all grades,” Superintendent Richard Langlois said in a statement.

As part of the plan, students will be separated into two groups based on their last name, alternating days in person in school with remote learning on other days.

Younger students, K-2, will eventually follow an all in-person model. All students will begin the year with a phased-in hybrid approach up until Sept. 28.

Last month, the administration had released a plan with several options, including a full return to school, a hybrid or blended plan, or a total remote learning model.

The administration had originally supported a “blended,” more hybrid option with certain grades returning in person on an alternating schedule.

After much discussion, surveys and input from teachers, staff and the public, school board members decided to wait to see what the most recent survey showed as to family preferences.

It was information needed to make the best decision, said board Chairman Shannon Ulery.

Masks would be required for all students and staff, with some exceptions allowed for valid reasons on a case by case determination.

Before the votes, some board members voiced concerns about certain return approaches.

Cynthia Finn stated she felt high school students set for a hybrid return would be missing out on the full high school experience, and not having the entire student body in the building at the same time.

“They have been together their entire lives,” Finn said, “and to separate their class because of the alphabet, I think it’s going to be detrimental. I think it’s wrong.”

Board member Rob Breton said the decisions being made are challenging, and school districts across the country are all facing similar challenges.

“What we are doing is what schools all across the country are doing, it’s trying to get to ‘good enough,’” Breton said. “What is right and what is best, there are so many barriers. All we can do is our best.”

School starts in Windham on Sept. 9 for K-12, using the phased-in hybrid approach along with the remote learning model. Families have until Aug. 19 to complete an initial commitment form and choose what learning option they want to use.

After Sept. 28, K-2 will continue on with a full day model while others then transition to the hybrid/remote alternating day approach.

Langlois added in his statement that he appreciated all the patience and hard work to make the reopening plans come together.

“Your patience, feedback and involvement continue to be appreciated while we work together to create a new set of norms for the 2020-21 school year,” he said.

Ulery said coming to the best plan had many challenges but she felt this was a good decision for the safety of staff and students.

"We are committed to providing a safe and robust learning environment," she said. "This plan gives us the opportunity to evaluate our risk mitigation strategies, staffing capabilities, and building capacities with the objective to achieve a full return for all students in the near future. Our goal has always been and will continue to be having students safely in school five days a week."

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