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Marano Offers Glimpse into Re-Opening of Schools

Jun 01, 2020 03:19PM ● By Pamela Johnson

Bellingham School Superintendent Peter Marano

Municipal Spotlight is written by KEN HAMWEY, Contributing Writer

The coronavirus (Covid-19) forced local and state governments to implement rules and regulations to combat the deadly pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives nationally. Guidelines and procedures were also part of the formula. In many cases, however, guidelines and regulations changed often, and change has become the norm for school departments and their administrative teams dealing with Covid-19.

Bellingham School Superintendent Peter Marano and other school leaders in the Blackstone Valley unilaterally closed their schools for a week (March 16-20). Before they re-opened, the state decided to shut down all schools for two additional weeks, aiming for an April 6 return. What later occurred was the continued closure of schools until May 4. As the virus raged, Gov. Charlie Baker then shuttered all schools for the rest of the year.

    “We made significant changes,” Marano noted. “By not having students in our buildings, we pivoted to remote learning. Our teachers and students adjusted in a dynamic way. We made sure there was equity for all students, including those lacking access to technology and those with special needs.”

    As Marano and other superintendents received directives from the Department of Education, they had to ensure that remote learning would be substantive. “As we got new information from the state, we had to provide more depth to remote learning,” Marano said. “We introduced new curriculum and emphasized priority standards [important areas that the state wanted covered].”

    Covid-19 became the change agent. Moving forward, there will be a plethora of changes when schools re-open, hopefully in late August and September. Following is a question-and-answer session with Bellingham’s school chief as he offered his thoughts on what the 2020-21 school opening might look like. His responses, which could be revised later, were for our May 15 deadline.
Q: Will all five of Bellingham’s schools re-open on Aug. 26?
A: I’m cautiously optimistic and remain hopeful that we’ll open on time. We may be fully open or it could be just certain grades. Social distancing likely will be part of the opening, and lunch time could be in classrooms instead of the cafeteria.
Q: If the cafeteria is in the mix, what will change?
A: There’ll probably be social distancing that will lessen the number of students at tables, and tables will have to be disinfected after each lunch period.
Q: Will classrooms for all grades require social distancing?
A: I believe we’ll have some form of distancing in classrooms.

Q: Will masks or facial coverings be needed for students?
A: It’s a real possibility and we’ve discussed purchasing masks.
Q: What rules will be in place before buses roll?
A: I would expect social distancing to occur, and all buses will be disinfected between runs and at the end of the day.
Q: Could the length of a school day be altered?
A: We’re waiting for guidance from the State Department of Education on that issue.

Q: Will there continue to be one nurse on duty at each of the schools, and how will their role change?
A: Each school will still have one nurse on duty, and they’ll have to be hyper-sensitive to any and all symptoms that students exhibit.
Q: Will teachers have to adhere to social distancing, and will they need to wear masks?
A: Social distancing for teachers is a real possibility, and they’ll need to be aware of their surroundings. As for wearing masks, that’s also very possible, but masks may make it difficult for them to project their voice. What also bothers me is that students won’t be able to recognize facial expressions that help in the learning process.
Q: Are teachers over 60 at risk?
A: I’m worried about veteran teachers, but I’m also worried about students and teachers with underlying conditions.
Q: How will athletics be affected?
A: Team schedules are set, and they’re good to go contingent on schools opening in the fall. There will likely be distancing rules for spectators at games, and if there’s social distancing in the classroom, then it’ll probably apply to locker-rooms and practices. There could be staggered practices where a limited number of players will be coached at different times. There will likely be a different approach to water bottles and coolers. Players may have to bring their own, or the school might provide them; and, if the virus is still causing chaos, handshakes after games might be replaced with head nods.
Q: The prom, which was scheduled for May 14, has been canceled. Have you devised any plans to honor graduating seniors?
A: Graduation day is Friday, June 5. We’re planning on a parade that day, but the route will be determined after we confer with the police department. (See parade info on page 26.) Also, during the first week of August, there will be a graduation ceremony at the turf field, and we’ll comply with all rules and regulations that are in place.
Q: Will class sizes be lessened?
A: We’ll do the best we can to keep numbers as low as possible, but we have to work within the constraints of our budget.
Q: Could there be problems enforcing distancing rules at the elementary level?
A: Data suggest that young people are not a high risk, but my concern is that if they’re asymptomatic, they could transmit Covid-19 to a grandparent or a family member whose health is already compromised.
Q: What are your prime concerns going forward?
A: First is that all students and staff are safe. After that I want to meet the needs of all students who have some educational gaps. Nothing replaces the learning that happens in the classroom every day. I also want students, parents and staff to feel comfortable being back in the building.
Q: Will you be guided in your decision-making by the governor, the department of education or the local board of health?
A: All three will provide guidance, and I’ll be cooperating with all three to ensure the safety of everyone.
Q: If positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still occurring, could remote learning be implemented again?
A: If we’re in the same place this fall as we were in during March, April and May, it’s very possible that remote learning could return.

Q: What will be the primary focus for custodians?
A: To continue to use sanitizing products in all parts of the building that students have access to. They’ll continue to spray tables, chairs, door handles, locker-rooms, etc.
Q: Did you agree with Gov. Baker’s calling off school for three-plus months?
A: Yes, because I don’t think we had a good enough handle on all the specifics of this virus.
Q: What will be the most notable changes when the new school year gets underway?
A: So far no guidelines have been set, but I would say social distancing and masks.
Q: You’ve been in education for 22 years, working as a guidance counselor, assistant principal then principal, and now as a superintendent. Teachers and administrators probably never got any training on pandemics during their days as undergraduates and master’s degree candidates. Did you ever think you’d be dealing with a pandemic?
A: It’s unchartered waters because we’ve never experienced anything like this. We get most of our knowledge from experience, and we’ve never had to deal with this type of situation.
Q: Economics teaches us that a tax hike during a recession, let alone a pandemic, would not be a wise move. Is the Proposition 2-1/2 override, which is on the ballot for the town’s June 9 election, ill-timed since, according to CNN Business (, 38.6 million people have filed for initial unemployment aid since mid-March (1.23 million of them in MA)? Some of those people are Bellingham taxpayers.
A: The school committee is moving forward with the proposal. I do believe that our district needs more funding to provide programming for students.

Q: What is your message to parents of school-age children at this point in time (Bulletin deadline, mid-May)?
A: I know how difficult this has been with remote learning. I appreciate all of the hard work they’ve done to ensure success for their children.
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