TOWNSHEND — With holiday breaks coming and two schools in the West River Education District waiting for results of air quality tests to clear them for a return to in-person learning, Leland & Gray Principal Bob Thibault urged the school board to be “thoughtful” about reopening the buildings.
“One of the things that has been hard for people through all of this, from March until now, is the unknown,” the high/middle school principal said at a meeting held remotely Monday.
For example, Thibault doesn’t think it would be a wise idea to open a week or two before the Christmas break after students and teachers are used to the virtual modality. He called for reopening at “clean entry points.”
His request followed a quick update from Superintendent Bill Anton about the air systems. In August, the board decided to delay in-person classes until the systems met standards recommended by the state for the health and safety of students and staff.
Jamaica Village School reopened to students earlier this month and NewBrook Elementary is scheduled to follow suit Monday. Alliance Group is currently working on air systems at Townshend Elementary and L&G, the district’s other two schools.
“We will hear something later this week about Townshend,” Anton said. “Just to prepare the board, the Townshend system is very old.”
His hope is to have results of testing at the elementary school ready for the board’s next meeting on Monday. He warned that if preventative maintenance doesn’t get the system to meet the standards, materials will need to be ordered and that could be an 8-to-12-week wait.
The priority now is to reopen Dutton Gym, next to L&G and across the street from Townshend Elementary. Anton said the idea is to have “a place for people to come in and use the facilities in case they want better WiFi or internet or space to meet with teachers.”
L&G is anticipated to receive testing at the end of this week or next week.
Discussing the impact of the school building being closed to students, Thibault said he’s concerned about “learning gaps from March, never mind the fall.”
“It’s a mixed bag,” he said when asked how the remote learning is going.
Thibault described seeing some students excelling who normally wouldn’t, some excelling who normally would and others who are struggling with the technology or other issues.
“The staff is working their tails off right now,” he said. “They’re learning the technology. They’re still getting better at it.”
Thibault worries changing the modality with only a one- or two-week notice wouldn’t be beneficial in the situation. Anton suggested the potential for warning a special meeting to discuss reopening plans when the time comes.