Catholic schools planning in-person learning with remote option

Two Catholic schools in Dorchester will invite students to return to daily, in-classroom learning this fall, but will also offer hybrid and fully remote options to accommodate parents and children who do not want to attend in person.

St. John Paul II Catholic Academy plans to begin daily, in-person learning for grades K2-8 at its three campuses in Dorchester on Sept. 9, but will give students and their guardians the option to attend classes remotely as well. Catherine Brandley, the academy’s regional director, said that based on parental surveys, she expects perhaps half of the school’s enrolled students to attend classes in person.

The academy intends to begin its academic year for students in preschool, K-0 and K-1 on Sept. 14.

Each school building— Lower Mills, Columbia, and Neponset— will be equipped with plastic dividers on desks and will undergo rigorous cleaning daily, she said.

According to Brandley, about 50 percent of parents completed a survey this summer that probed opinions on reopening the schools. About 52 percent of those who participated indicated that they would prefer to keep their children home and learning remotely. A “covid board” – which includes faculty, nurses, and principals – drafted three models, including the preferred “hybrid” plan.

“Our plan is to open five days a week in fall knowing that we won’t have full classrooms,” Brandley told the Reporter last week. “Every parent will have the opportunity to [learn] remotely if they want.” 

Students will not be penalized or marked “absent” as long as they are engaged in classes as scheduled and checking in. Each school is already equipped with Epson smart projectors, which will allow students learning from home to observe the classroom.

Teachers at the academy are being trained in Zoom and will be licensed to conduct virtual classes, she said. Students in grades 4-8 will be using Google classroom and the younger grades will use an online platform called See Saw.

“We’ll have professional development. We have teachers who were better at remote learning and just ran with it. We are using them a bit to train other staff with three or four per campus coaching them around best practices,” said Brandley.

The academy has also purchased plastic dividers that will be used on individual desks as an additional measure to protect against germ spread. A custodial company has been hired to “clean all day long and every night.”

Brandley said that parents who decide to keep their child home on a given day will have that option. “I know parents are getting anxious, but we’re going to be flexible,” she said.

Maura Burke, principal of St. Brendan School on Rita Road, said all students will be invited back to the classroom on Aug. 31, but added that “we do have plans for a hybrid model and a remote learning plan that we could utilize if we need to. But we are not anticipating any change,” Burke told the Reporter on Tuesday.  

She said the results of a survey sent to parents indicate that almost all parents who responded were comfortable with sending their children into classrooms at the start of the year. 

“Probably a little over one-third of our parents responded to the survey and 98 percent of them said they were okay with an in-person return,” said Burke. 

Everyone in the building will be required to follow state-mandated safety guidelines. All staff and students in grades 2-6 must wear masks, and those in pre-K and up are strongly encouraged but not required to wear face coverings. 

Burke said that each room has been repurposed. “Students will be facing the same direction with at least 3 to 6 feet space in between, and each classroom has a sanitation station,” she said. 

The bathrooms at St. Brendan’s will be open to one individual at a time. Students must walk in one direction and maintain social distancing in the hallways and there will be restrictions on what kinds of things can be brought into school. All items must be washable.

“We’re going to be utilizing outside space in a way that we never had before,” said Burke, explaining that students will have time outside when they are allowed to take down their masks and social distance. 

“There are a lot of little things, especially with the younger kids, that have been changed. But they’ve all been replaced with something else or another activity,” she said, adding that the school has hired additional custodians to ramp up cleaning.

“Everybody wants what’s best for their students and they also want to work in a safe environment. Collectively, we feel that we have created that environment,” said Burke.