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Mount Greylock School Committee OKs Agreement with Union on Start of School
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires.com
10:24AM / Tuesday, September 01, 2020
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Updated to provide additional information at noon.
 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A divided Mount Greylock Regional School Committee Tuesday approved a memorandum of agreement with the district's union that lays out the plan for the start of the school year for students this month.
 
On a vote of 4-2, the committee OKed a proposal negotiated by interim Superintendent Robert Putnam with the Mount Greylock Educators Association that will have all general education classes conducted remotely from Sept. 16 through Oct. 2 in the PreK-12 district.
 
Starting on Monday, Oct. 5, the school district will open the schoolhouse doors for in-person instruction on a hybrid basis with students in the buildings for up to two days per week and learning remotely the rest of the week through at least Friday, Oct. 30.
 
Starting Sept. 16, all special education teachers will be available in the school buildings for in-person instruction to provide a free and appropriate education to those students with special needs, Putnam said.
 
As for general education pupils at Lanesborough Elementary School and Williamstown Elementary School, they will attend classes in person on a morning/afternoon rotation four days per week starting on Monday, Oct. 5, under the agreement.
 
Students in "Cohort A" will attend morning classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Students in Cohort B will attend afternoon classes those four days. All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays
 
At Mount Greylock Regional School, students in grades 7 through 12 will start hybrid education Oct. 5 on an AARBB rotation, meaning that students in Cohort A will attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, students in Cohort B will attend school in person on Thursdays and Fridays and all students will be instructed remotely on Wednesdays.
 
That hybrid schedule will run at least through the end of October, subject to two things, Putnam said: a condition that the district can ensure that its HVAC system can provide a two-time per hour air exchange and the continued public health metrics to support in-person instruction.
 
Putnam said the school district will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and local boards of health. If any of them indicate remote learning is appropriate, "we will of course follow that," he said.
 
He also cited some metrics that the district will follow. If either of the district's member towns, Lanesborough or Williamstown, is listed as "yellow" or "red" in the commonwealth's classification system for local spread of the novel coronavirus, the district will go remote, Putnam said.
 
Other triggers for remote learning: a 3 percent or higher positive test rate in Berkshire County or a 3 percent or higher rate in the combined member towns, Putnam said.
 
In keeping with the mandate from the commonwealth, Mount Greylock will offer remote instruction throughout the year to students in any family not comfortable with a return to in-person instruction.
 
Elementary school pupils will be taught in a "remote academy," Putnam said. Pupils from both WES and LES will be grouped together by grade for instruction. All instruction will be done by Mount Greylock teachers.
 
Aside from that wrinkle and the new specifics on what would trigger a return to remote learning, the plan Putnam outlined on Tuesday morning looked a lot like the proposal he laid out for members of the school communities on Aug. 11. At that time, he stressed that all parts of the plan were subject to collective bargaining, but he also noted that he had productive conversations with MGEA about the plan he needed to submit to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Aug. 14.
 
Two days after Putnam's virtual town hall presentation, the School Committee voted to adopt a very different plan that took a more aggressive approach toward getting students back to in-person instruction as soon as possible.
 
Citing guidance from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls, and concerns about the social/emotional impact of time out of schools that have been closed since mid-March, the School Committee ordered Putnam to submit to the state a plan that sent elementary school children to school four full days a week starting on Sept. 16 and a hybrid plan for Mount Greylock starting on Sept. 16 with a transition to four-days of in-person instruction starting Oct. 1.
 
Putnam has been the point person for the School Committee on negotiating a memorandum of agreement with MGEA. He reported to the School Committee on the progress of those negotiations in executive sessions on Aug. 19 and Aug. 26. On Aug. 27, the committee planned an executive session and warned a potential vote on the MOA in open session, but after more than 2 1/2 hours in executive session, the committee announced it had not reached an agreement and that it would hold another special meeting on Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., the soonest a meeting could be posted under the commonwealth's Open Meeting Law.
 
On Tuesday, the School Committee met with Putnam and district counsel Adam Dupere in executive session for 1 hour, 49 minutes before returning to open session.
 
Steven Miller, who voted in the minority of a 6-1 vote to go into executive session, joined Regina DiLego in the minority of a 4-2 vote to approve the MOA. Alison Carter, who was in the virtual meeting Tuesday when the committee went into executive session, was not present for the return to open session just before 10 a.m.
 
None of the committee members commented on the agreement in open session or gave a public indication of their reasons for voting for or against the deal. The School Committee was the first side to OK the agreement; the union still needs to hold a vote on its end.
 
As the School Committee met, the district's teachers already were beginning their school year.
 
While many teachers participated in voluntary training over the summer on the district's virtual instruction platforms, the contractual first day for staff is Sept. 1. Per an agreement reached between the governor and the state's largest teachers unions, the commonwealth is reducing the number of days of time on learning for students statewide by 10 days in the 2020-21 academic year; those 10 days are to allow extra professional development for teachers in remote learning techniques before the start of classes.
 
At Mount Greylock, the teachers' professional development is scheduled for four days this week, four days next week and Monday and Tuesday, Sept, 14 and 15, with students returning for remote learning on Sept. 16.
 
Putnam said he will give an online presentation for families about the back-to-school plan on Wednesday at a time to be announced.

 

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