NEWBURY — Following a School Committee discussion and vote Monday night, the Triton Regional School District opted to kick off the school year Sept. 16 with a fully remote learning model.

The committee’s vote in favor of the remote model came with the condition it will review and reconsider this model about every four weeks or so with the hope of transitioning to a hybrid learning model when it is deemed feasible to do so.

Though these key points were decided Monday, the committee still plans to meet again tonight to solidify all the details of the reopening plan before it is officially submitted to the state.

“This is an impossible decision to make,” Superintendent Brian Forget said at the meeting. “There is no way to make a perfect decision in this case and so, ultimately, we have to err on the side of caution and make the wisest choice with the information that we have in front of us.”

Chairwoman Nerissa Wallen said the committee has met weekly, if not multiple times a week, in preparation for this decision. 

The district also distributed an online survey for families to share their critiques and suggestions after a sudden pivot to remote learning in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Using feedback from students, families and staff, the district recognized three key areas for improvement.

First, families requested more “consistency,” including with the curriculum, schedules, communication and expectations of students.

Second, families and staff saw technology as one of the biggest hurdles. From learning how to use a Chromebook to accessing a Zoom meeting, families and staff members  experienced a learning curve with technology.

The district noted in the draft of its reopening plan that it has created technology workshops for teachers and parents, which will be available prior to and during the school year.

Finally, the district acknowledged “a need to expand engagement opportunities for all students.”

While some students excelled in the remote setting, others struggled to connect with their teachers and the curriculum.

When the district eventually transitions to a hybrid model, Forget said there will not be any temperature checks. Like other school districts, Triton will rely on parents to check their children and for students to speak up if they have any symptoms.

Students and staff will be required to wear face coverings at all times, except during designated “mask breaks.”

In the buildup to the vote, Wallen noted that the district’s three towns — Newbury, Salisbury and Rowley — have had 10 positive COVID-19 cases in the last month, including five in the past two weeks. Those cases are out of an estimated 21,663 residents in the district, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Still, a couple of committee members pointed out that staff and families are not confined to their towns and many parents travel for work, whether it is to local municipalities or to neighboring states.

Ongoing health concerns, in addition to questions about the general feasibility of creating safe classroom spaces, contributed to the committee’s 8-1 vote in favor of starting the year with a fully remote model. Wallen was the only member who voted against the motion.

To view the full, roughly four-hour meeting, visit www.youtube.com/channel/UCuKUrgOC4_i-PKoOmHT3JhA.

For more details on the plan and the process, go to https://sites.google.com/tritonschools.org/trsd/home.

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