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Schools will reopen full time by late April, per state orders

In response to a state mandate, all elementary students in Harvard will go back to school full time starting April 5. They will be in school five days a week, mornings and afternoons, with lunch breaks and mask breaks held outside as much as weather permits. The only exception will be the small percentage of children whose families choose to continue with remote classes.

It will be “more like a traditional schedule,” Superintendent Linda Dwight told the School Committee Monday evening. She said the schools will be asking the Harvard Public Library for permission to put up four tents on the field in front of the library for outside lunch breaks.

Also on April 5, all middle and high school students will go back to the Bromfield School for morning classes five days a week. The state commissioner informed school administrators of this timetable Tuesday.

Until now, Bromfield students have been divided into two cohorts, each attending in person two mornings a week. But as of April 5, all students—again, except for those whose families choose fully remote learning—will be back in the building five mornings a week. After going home for lunch, the Bromfield students will have afternoon classes remotely.

Then, after April vacation, the Bromfield schedule will change again. As of April 28, the state will require students in grades 6 through 8 to be back in school full time, five days a week.

The state has not yet set a date for grades 9 through 12 to return to school full time. But in Harvard, middle schoolers and high schoolers have classes in the same building and ride the same buses. So Superintendent Dwight told a public forum Tuesday evening that high school students will probably return April 28, along with the middle schoolers.

More than 200 people signed in for the Tuesday forum at which Dwight explained the state’s plan for reopening schools. Dwight emphasized that the primary goal remains the safety of both students and staff. Surveys of parents and students show a substantial majority of both groups are comfortable with the plans to return, Dwight said. And she offered the good news that about a quarter of Harvard teachers have received their first or (in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) their only dose of vaccine, while a number of other teachers have appointments lined up.

School Committee member Suzie Allen, who is also a pediatric nurse practitioner, explained why space between desks can safely be reduced from the current 6 feet, with more students in the building at the same time. She pointed out that the 6-foot social distancing guideline was originally developed for people who were not wearing masks. With masks, droplets and aerosols that might spread COVID-19 do not travel nearly as far. And masks will still be mandatory in the reopened schools. The schools will still open windows as often as possible for greater classroom ventilation. And the weekly screening process in place since January will continue.

The Harvard schools’ weekly screening program for COVID-19 has been widely praised as a model, including in an article in The Atlantic magazine. In addition, Dwight said, Harvard has been mentoring other Massachusetts school districts that want to set up similar programs.

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