Meal plans continue in many districts

📷 The Citizen Chronicle file photo

Area superintendents, principals, and teachers were learning along with the general public this afternoon that all schools across the state would remain closed until at least May 4.

On Wednesday afternoon, Governor Charlie Baker and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Jeff Riley announced all public and private K-12 schools throughout Massachusetts would remain closed for the next several weeks as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. School leaders throughout southern Worcester County quickly took to social media, e-mail, and automated phone calls to pass word along to parents and students.

Southbridge Public Schools placed an alert on its website, in English and in Spanish, noting that while Baker had ordered a stay at home advisory for all non-essential activities, that “Educational functions, such as the provision of meals for students, are considered an essential service and will continue.” Those meals have been well-received in Southbridge, with as many as 500 students being provided the free food each day, according to town officials earlier this week.

Dudley-Charlton Regional School District (DCRSD) Superintendent Steven Lamarche also addressed the need for meals for students who may otherwise not get three meals a day.

“As we continue to provide grab-n-go meals for families that are identified as free and reduced we have heard that the mid-day pickup does not help everyone,” Lamarche said in an e-mail.

For DCRSD students, the grab-n-go meals will be offered during expanded hours on Mondays and Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley. This evening slot is in addition to a mid-day schedule for Dudley residents to get their grab-n-go meals at Shepherd Hill and Charlton residents to do so at Charlton Middle School from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Friday.

In Oxford, acting superintendent Kristine Nash said the governor’s actions are based on the information available and with the best interests of the Commonwealth in mind.

“While we recognize that this will continue to pose challenges and hardships for families, his decision was made out of an abundance of precaution and on medical information,” Nash wrote in an e-mail to staff, parents, guardians, and students. “We want to assure parents and guardians that our administrative team has already begun discussions about what teaching and learning will look like should the closing be extended beyond the initial three weeks.”

During today’s announcement, Riley said DESE will be providing school districts with guidance on how to proceed during the extended school closure period. Area leaders indicated they had already begun thinking about such contingency plans, and are awaiting the advice of the commissioner.

“With the lack of specific guidance, the DCRSD is moving from the currently provided learning opportunities to more enhanced learning opportunities. Our goal is to launch these enhanced learning opportunities next Monday, March 30, 2020,” wrote Lamarche in an e-mail. “The main goal it to increase student engagement and create greater opportunities for students to connect to their classroom and special education teacher. This should be recognized as a next step to take us further but know pending guidance may change or alter our plan.”

He added: “Please note that our teachers and staff are doing everything they can to collaborate, build grade level consensus and provide meaningful opportunities for student engagement.”

Nash echoed a similar refrain.

“The team will be meeting (virtually) this week and early next week to finalize what we call ‘Phase 2’ of an extended learning plan for all Oxford students. More specific details will be forthcoming from my office as well as from each Building Principal. In the meantime, your child/children has/have enrichment learning packets through April 6th,” she wrote. “I also anticipate that the Commissioner will be coming out with more guidelines relating to such topics as grading, MCAS, and competency determination for seniors. There are still many educational unknowns both at the state and local levels. However, as ‘unknowns’ become ‘knowns’ I will share them with you.”

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