AUBURN — The School Committee on Wednesday night voted on a measure that would leave big decisions regarding a return to school to parents and students. 

After nearly four hours of vigorous discussion, the committee voted 4-2 on a plan that would offer the choice of having students in school two days a week or four days a week, with an additional third option for full remote learning. 

By the time the vote passed, the committee had already wrestled with the complexities of their back-to-school plan for three and a half hours. 

A vote earlier in the night, on a plan that would have students in school two days a week with three days of remote education, failed after a 3-3 split. 

That measure failed in large part because of incomplete information: the committee doesn’t know for sure how many students plan to come back for in-person learning and how many plan to stick with the remote option. With strict state guidelines in mind, the School Department is not completely certain whether they have enough space in their schools to meet social distancing mandates. 

The meeting involved many tense and emotional moments as committee members offered their concerns about how children are coping with the many life changes imposed by COVID-19. 

A few said they have heard stories about students as young as 9 years old who could be left home unattended during the daytime in the school year because their parents have to work.  

Committee member Faith Fontaine said she personally knows children who have barely left their homes since March and they are suffering emotionally because of it. 

Like others, Fontaine would like to see students go back to school full-time rather than for just two days a week. 

“Ultimately, I think kids need to be in school full time,” she said. “That’s my opinion. And I just think we’re going to fail our kids if we don’t provide them with the basics of education in a school system.” 

The Auburn school system has already hosted forums, conducted surveys and consulted with health experts as they try to navigate their way into a new school year.

 

Assistant Superintendent Michelle McClellan said the committee has been “thinking outside of boxes we didn’t even know existed. 

“It’s planning to plan to plan to plan,” she said, “because we want to put together a plan right now that we feel we can move forward with.” 

All night, committee seemed hesitant to make an official move that would impact so many parents, teachers and students in many known and unknown ways. 

“It’s difficult for me to sit here and make choices for other people’s families,” committee Chairwoman Karen Mathieu said, “not knowing what their own personal situations are.” 

Midway through the meeting, the committee also heard from parents and students who have their own trepidations.  

And Edward Little High School senior said she conducted her own poll that revealed that her classmates overwhelmingly want to return to the classroom. For some, she said, doing so is of particular importance. 

“For those children that have rough home lives,” she said, “schools are only safe haven where they actually are being fed and loved by caring, compassionate people who will actually help them.” 

But the committee has also heard from plenty of teachers, parents and others who are wary of sending students back to school with so much uncertainty about whether cases of COVID will rise or fall in coming weeks. 

While the plan to have students in school two days a week is still on the table, committee members agreed that the goal should be to increase that number to four days a week as the situation clarifies and if the pandemic numbers continue to drop. 

The committee set Sept. 30 as the date when the plan will be revisited and adjusted according to the most current information at that time. 

After passing the measure to leave it up to parents whether their students go for in-person or remote education come September, the committee took a short recess, their first of the long night. Most seemed relieved to have reached some kind of conclusion in the matter of how to proceed. 

“It’s a tremendous decision,” Mathieu said. 


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