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Schools & Parents Seek Direction During Prolonged Shut Down

by Robert Stewart
Late last week, Governor Charlie Baker ordered all schools in Massachusetts to close for three weeks beginning this past Tuesday (March 17). The order pushed administrators in the Groton-Duntable School District to come up quickly with a plan to keep students involved in learning and left parents to cope with ways to keep their children occupied and focused and to address their own work schedules.
      The order from Governor Baker comes in response to warnings from state and national health officials that the coronavirus flu (COVID-19) is likely to infect many more residents in the coming weeks. The order to close schools, restaurants, bars and limit group meetings to 10 or fewer people is an effort to prevent cases of COVID-19 from spiking and placing an overwhelming
burden on hospitals and health care facilities where difficult choices in regards to treatment would have to be made.
     The School Committee held a special meeting on March 18 to discuss and make decisions about a myriad of issues ranging from student learning to handling management of the school district and to modify the school calendar to meet the loss of 15 school days and the possibility that more time will be lost.
     In advance of the March 18 meeting, Superintendent of Schools Laura Chesson issued an update on the impact of school closing on the district. Chesson outlined how learning may continue during school closure and gave an indication of how other services provided by the school district may be provided including special education and any free lunches.
     In regards to continuity of learning, Chesson explained that the school district cannot make learning mandatory for students during school closures because of state requirements. She stated in her update that public schools are required to provide “Equitable access” to all learning activities that are part of the mandatory educational activities of the state.
     In response to that requirement, Chesson noted that teachers in the school district will reach out to students on a daily basis Monday through Friday to share learning opportunities and recommendations. Chesson stated in her update, “We encourage students to continue learning but cannot make this mandatory.”
     Chesson praised teachers and staff in the school district for making this effort. She then gave the address of a web site
developed by staff that could assist students and parents in learning opportunities during the school closure period. The web site: / distancelearningopportunities/ home will be updated daily. The web site will also include information of Health and Wellness resources and also a Mental Health Crisis Protocol.
     Chesson also briefly addressed some parental concerns about school facilities, academic issues, athletic issues, travel abroad and field trips within the U.S. She noted that student report cards and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are on hold until further notice. In regards to athletics, she said all school fields are closed and there can no practices of any type and no pick-up games.
Another issue for parents especially at the middle school is the status of the eighth grade trip to Washington D.C. She indicated
that the school district has not made a decision on whether to allow the trip but noted the risk is high for the Governor to extend school closings which would not allow the trip to happen.
     In regards to Special Education services, PPS Director Jill Greene sent a letter to parents of students with IEPs updating them on what learning services may be available during school closure. Greene stated in her letter that the school district will not be providing direct special education services during the school closing period.
     However, she informed parents the district will provide learning experiences and resources through the district’s website.
Greene said the district will be “freezing” timelines for special education evaluation and that no team meetings will be scheduled during the school closure period. She added that once schools reopen, the timeline for special education evaluations will restart. Days during the school closure period will not count in determining the timeline.
     In her update, Chesson informed parents that the school district will update families daily at the end of every day on changes within the district that may occur in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
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