AMESBURY — Middle and high school students will not return to class anytime soon and a clearer picture is beginning to emerge why the district now finds itself in that position.
The School Committee called an emergency meeting Friday afternoon and voted 5-1 to have middle and high school students continue to learn remotely until further notice.
Under the committee’s modified hybrid model, elementary school students will learn in a combination of in-person and remote classes while their middle and high school counterparts will continue to go to school from home.
Mayor Kassandra Gove contacted the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Friday to clarify issues with the district’s reopening plan, according to city Communications Director Caitlin Thayer.
In a blog post, Gove stated that the district’s internet technology infrastructure does not support what the state requires for two-way remote learning. The mayor’s post also stressed that the Massachusetts Association of School Committees advised the city that a district’s superintendent is responsible for crafting a reopening plan for school committee approval.
Superintendent Jared Fulgoni stood by his plan – which can be found at https://schools.amesburyma.gov/domain/2544 – on Tuesday. He said the plan was the product of input from his school principals, teachers and department heads, along with the city’s reopening task force.
“This is not my plan, this is the Amesbury Public Schools plan,” Fulgoni said. “We had teachers from all grade levels, their union, community members, social service agencies like The Pettengill House, representatives from the Fire Department and the Police Department, school nurses, parents and a representative from the School Committee, Maryann Welch. This was developed in a very collaborative and transparent process that included more than, I think, 90 people.”
The superintendent also said he has been warning the School Committee about the technology issue for many months.
“This is the result of neglect of over 20 years,” Fulgoni said. “In fact, I believe (former) Mayor Ken Gray had a plan to put together a bond to address many of these technology issues. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t get rolled forward with the new administration.”
In an email Tuesday afternoon, Thayer said Fulgoni never brought a technology bond to the attention of the mayor or School Committee and that Gray left no transitional documents on the topic.
Cindy Yetman, president of the American Federation of Teachers of Amesbury, said her union members pushed to get kindergartners and first-graders into school as soon as possible.
“We spearheaded the idea of the youngest children going back first,” Yetman said.
She said the specialization of teachers at the middle and high schools is one of the biggest concerns in working out a hybrid model.
“We have remote teachers pre-k through fourth grade because they are generalists,” Yetman said. “But opening that up to the middle school and high school is a challenge. How are we going to have a remote teacher just for Spanish for the eighth grade?”
Plenty of parents have been complaining about the situation on social media and the teachers are just as dissatisfied, according to Fulgoni.
“I assure you, we’re just as mad as they are,” he said. “We want children back in class. We have been working toward this since March and we will continue to develop plans to get kids back in. It is unfortunate that the resources here in the community are not supporting that.”
Yetman said her teachers want to get back to their classrooms as soon as possible.
“My teachers want the kids back in school,” Yetman said. “But they need an education delivery system that works for families and works for the kids. The mayor has my support, the school administration has my support. There’s no problem that we can’t solve as long as we solve it together.”
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.