August 22, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
The Hingham Education Association is currently in negotiations with school officials for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, with a focus on both the physical and social/emotional well-being of students, teachers, and other school staff.
Negotiations will continue next Tuesday, Aug. 25, when HEA representatives will meet with Supt. of Schools Paul Austin, school committee members, and other school officials, working within constantly-changing Department of Elementary & Secondary Education guidelines that need to be clarified and implemented in the Hingham Public Schools final reopening plan.
"There are literally hundreds of details to be worked out," HEA President June Gustafson -- a social studies teacher at Hingham Middle School -- told the Hingham Anchor. "Hingham's team of teachers really wants to offer all they can, but in a way that will keep everybody safe."
Gustafson emphasized that the HEA isn't voting on which return-to-school plan they would like to see implemented -- remote, in-person, or hybrid, which is a combination of both -- but "how those plans will be implemented."
In response to an email, Austin also shared with the Hingham Anchor his thoughts about negotiations with the HEA. "The focus of our negotiations is meeting the academic and social/emotional needs of our students, and providing our teachers with high-quality professional development that outfits them with the tools necessary to meet the needs of our students, whether they are doing so in-person and/or remotely. The health and safety of all students and faculty remains our top priority as we continue to move toward the reopening of schools and the first student days ahead."
The most recent Hingham Public Schools school reopening plan is based on a phased-in remote/hybrid learning model. The first day of school for students will be Sept. 16.
Gustafson said she doesn't understand why DESE is "pushing so hard for an in-person return to school when DESE staff is working remotely and will continue to do so until the end of the calendar year."
Among the list of concerns to be addressed, Gustafson said, are whether all buildings used by students and staff are safe; what this new way of teaching will look like; substitute teaching plans; how to manage remote and in-person learning simultaneously; and student privacy concerns while live streaming.
Other concerns revolve around childcare considerations; the availability of Personal Protective Equipment; outdated textbooks; special education/student services considerations; social/emotional impacts of wearing a mask all day and limited interactions with fellow students and teachers, and related issues; protocols for riding and getting off school buses; walking in school and hallway expectations; sanitizing; bathroom, lunch, and recess protocols; various health and safety issues, and many others.
While acknowledging the challenges of working through the seemingly-countless school reopening details, Gustafson remains optimistic. "It's a daunting task, but not impossible," she said. "We want to help make the reopening process as successful and safe as possible for everyone involved, and we also want our students to feel a sense of joy while learning."
In related news, HPS will welcome 15 new teachers on Monday, Aug. 24, for two days of orientation. A number of experienced teachers volunteered to support the newest educators through a new teacher mentoring program.
Wednesday, Aug. 26, marks the beginning of the new school year with the annual convocation for all teaching faculty. This will be followed by an intensive program of professional development and curriculum workshops focusing on safety protocols, best practices in hybrid/remote learning, technology integration, social/emotional learning, differentiation (tailoring instruction to meet individual needs), special education, and discipline-specific curriculum work.
K-12 principals and administrators continue to work on schedules, cohorts, and bus assignments.