Ashland Public Schools Give Peek at Socially Distanced Return to Classes

School officials in Ashland tried out 3 and 6 feet of desk spacing to see what things could look like for students

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Using coronavirus safety guidelines mandated by the state, one Massachusetts superintendent is providing a sneak peek at what things may look like inside schools when students and staff return this fall.

Ashland Public Schools Superintendent Jim Adams recently invited the school committee, board of health, selectmen, town manager and others involved in school reopening guidelines to literally take a seat at the table – and on the school bus – to see how 3 feet of spacing looks and feels like from the students' perspective.

"We set up our classrooms with three feet of space in between desks and tables where students would be sitting," Adams explained. "Once I set it up, I started getting a little anxious myself and I said, 'This isn't the right thing to do.' I wouldn't feel comfortable sending my own kids back in a model like this where we're packed in."

Adams said school officials then tried out the 6-foot model, which would significantly shrink the number of desks and number of students in the classroom. It would also drastically reduce the number of children riding in one school bus.

"We would typically transport anywhere between 50 and 70 kids," Adams said. "Now under guidelines, we're only going to be able to transport, at best, 25."

Adams said many involved in the demonstration were shocked.

"It was a no brainer for me that I couldn't support the 3-foot model," he said.

The hybrid option, known as the "hopscotch model," received the most attention during a Boston School Committee meeting Wednesday about options for reopening in the fall. The measure involves separating students into two groups, with each group returning to the classroom two days a week, and closing the buildings one day a week for deep cleaning.

Despite the challenges, Adams said parents have been appreciative that so much thought is going into planning for the school year, whatever it may look like.

"I'm very pleased that he's doing the exercises, getting a sense of what it's about, how it would work, what it looks like," Ashland parent Mark Larson said. "And then being able to refine any issues that he uncovers."

Adams said at the forefront of all the decisions school officials make will be the health and safety of their students, staff and faculty – no matter what the minimum guidelines call for.

"Just because we can, doesn't mean it's the right thing to do from a health and safety standpoint," Adams said.

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