Villar discusses COVID response in open letter to local families

SOUTHBRIDGE — The following is the entire transcription of an open letter to local families from Southbridge Public Schools Receiver/Superintendent Jeffrey Villar.

Dear Families,

I hope you are having a restful summer. As you are probably aware, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has asked each school district to examine the possibility of returning to school under three possible scenarios: (1) a return to school buildings with increased safety measures, (2) a return to remote at home learning, and (3) a hybrid model that has students spend some days at home and some days at school. We will not definitively know which format will be used until after August 10, which is the deadline put forth by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for comprehensive reopening plans. However, we would like to share some general updates, aligned with our promise to keep you frequently and promptly informed about the reopening of school.

As we continue to plan for all aspects of school in the fall, I would like to let you know that we have two guiding principles. Those are 1) To develop a plan that is safe for our students and for all of our staff members and 2) To deliver the highest quality educational experience for students as possible. The health and safety of our learning community is paramount in all decisions. With that in mind, I would like to share the following updates.

First, we have released family surveys to gather your thoughts about school in the fall. Parent and family input is an important part of the process. Your feedback will help us in planning for a safe and healthy school year and to understand how to support your child’s learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can find a link to the surveys on the homepage of our website, www.southbridgepublic.org or by going directly to the list of survey links on our blog. Personnel from the school may reach out to some families to encourage them to fill out the survey. You can also expect to see school district representatives in areas around town where people gather to ask you about reopening. Please take a moment to share your feedback. When the survey is complete, we intend to release the results as well.

Feedback that we have received so far indicates that some families do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school in person due to concerns about COVID-19. In response, we would like to assure you that we intend to provide families with a remote learning option when school begins. Information will soon be available on how to request that option. We will be able to share our overall reopening plan after August 10, which is the deadline put forth by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for comprehensive reopening plans. You will find these important upcoming announcements on our website, blog, and on our official social media accounts.

Additionally, we have moved the first day of school from August 24 to September 8. This will allow extra time for additional professional development and teacher support that will be critical for the new school year. This will also allow us to be certain that our students have access to technology secured and available as school begins. The district has ordered chromebooks for all students and will also have a supply of WiFi hotspots for families without internet access. As you might imagine, these items are in high demand with districts throughout the country ordering in large volume. We are in regular communication with our technology providers and we expect to have both chromebooks and the appropriate internet access ready for students before school begins. An updated school year calendar will be available on our website as decisions about the school year are finalized.

Finally, we are pleased to announce that Karin Checka, who has served as our high school nurse and district nursing coordinator, has agreed to a new role overseeing the district response to COVID-19 from a medical perspective. She will work district-wide ensuring that we remain focused on the health and welfare of students and staff. The High School will welcome a new nurse to fill Nurse Checka’s vacated position for the 2020-2021 school year. Each school will also continue to have it’s own dedicated school nurse.

Communication During the Summer Break

As a reminder, we are committed to providing you with updates as they become available. You will find announcements on our website, on our official social media accounts, and through other communication channels such as email and phone calls. If you would like to update your contact information, or confirm that we have the correct email address and phone number for your family, you can write to help@southbridgepublic.org or ayuda@southbridgepublic.org. You can also call or text (774) 601-0082 with updates to your contact information.

We are committed to providing students in Southbridge with rich opportunities for learning under any circumstance. Thank you for your patience and hard work during this unusual time.

Please have a safe and enjoyable summer.

Regards,

Jeffrey A. Villar, Ph.D.
Receiver/Superintendent
Southbridge Public Schools

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