Full-Time Classroom Learning Won't Be an Option in Somerville, Officials Say

Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper says students returning to the classroom full time in the fall will not be an option because it's not safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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School districts across the country are doing their best to plan for the upcoming school year without knowing for certain what the situation with COVID-19 will be, but one school district in Massachusetts says it has already determined that full-time in-person classroom learning will not be an option.

In Somerville, Mayor Joe Curtatone knows what he and many other parents would like, saying, “My wife and I have four children. We have children in the Somerville public schools and we want desperately to get them back into a school setting.”

But he knows that won’t happen, though it was considered for a period of time.

"One thing we are taking off the table is a return in the fall full time for all students to come," Superintendent Mary Skipper said. "We have looked at it. We do not believe it's safe."

Instead, officials are focused on developing a hybrid system, involving a combination of some in-school learning with some at-home lessons.

In addition to helping contain the spread of the coronavirus, Skipper says this approach is also good preparation if there is an outbreak.

“If COVID ends up in a classroom and students need to be quarantined for two weeks, or if it’s in a school and the school has to be shuttered, students are going to have to go back and forth between hybrid, in-person and being fully remote,” she pointed out.

While most of Massachusetts is already in Phase 3, Somerville is postponing its reopening cycle once again.

Somerville is taking Massachusetts guidelines and expanding on them, with Mayor Curtatone saying the state's guidelines fall short. Somerville will provide six feet of social distancing for kids over the state-recommended three feet, and they will also require masks on all students pre-k through grade 12.

The plans are still evolving, though, because so, too, is this pandemic.

Somerville has been more cautious than the rest of the state, twice delaying the start of Phase 3 of Gov. Charlie Baker's economic reopening plan.

Phase 3 in Somerville is set to begin on Aug. 3, though even that could be delayed again. Mayor Curtatone has said he will make the call based on a number of factors. 

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