As Layce Alves began preparing her classroom for the start of another school year, she did not like what she saw. 

"As I began setting up my room, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the limited distancing between desks," the fifth-grade teacher wrote in an email to the Times, expressing her concerns of going back to in-person learning during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

In a video attached to the email, a number of teachers sat at the desks of their students — 3 feet apart with masks — to illustrate what it would look like during the academic year. 

Teachers imitated coughing and sneezing sounds and stretched out their hands, touching their neighboring "student" in the demonstration.

While teachers are a bit taller and their wing span a tad longer than that of their average student, Alves emphasized that the concern still remains — "the 3-foot distance simply isn't manageable!!!"

Alves is among a group of teachers who still hope the School Committee will consider models of learning other than in-person as they see the potential for contracting the COVID-19 virus too high to risk it. 

"I know the committee was on the fence about the 3 ft. distance and I was shocked to see that the FULL IN model was the final vote," Alves continued. "This is quickly becoming our new reality and we are terrified that we won't be able to keep our families safe."

The schools' learning plans

West Parish Elementary School, where Alves teaches, is among seven of the district's schools that will be meeting in-person for a portion of the school day. 

Preschools will meet in-person with reduces class sizes, elementary schools will meet in-person with an hour of remote learning scheduled in the afternoon, and O'Maley Innovation Middle school will have a full enrollment. 

Gloucester High School shifted to fully remote learning after both Principal James Cook and Superintendent Ben Lummis identified major operational issues in implementing their original hybrid learning plan. 

The high school intends to transition to part-time in-school learning after the first month of school. 

Over the summer months, West Parish Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Beth Parkhurst spent her time on a number of committees and attended professional development meetings to prepare for the unknown. 

"Trying to prepare for multiple opening scenarios," Parkhurst wrote to the Times. "Also, wondering and worrying what the fall would look like."

Hesitant to go back to school in-person, Parkhurst suggests that teachers and students can do remote learning better now that there is not a "stay at home" order. 

"Remote learning can be done better now that we are more educated on safe drop-offs and pick-ups of school materials that students can use during remote learning," she said. "There could be outreach sites where students can get assistance a few at a time with social distancing."

Spacing and keeping clean

As teachers brainstorm ways to keep themselves and students virus-free, the school district's administration is stocking up on cleaning supplies and planning on how to go forward this fall. 

"Everything is a work in progress," Lummis said. "Our primary objective remains the safe return of as many students as possible to in-person school settings, to maximize learning, address our students' full needs, and support community and family needs."

At the most recent School Committee meeting, Lummis outlined that of the 376 school districts across the Commonwealth, 248 are using a hybrid learning model, 113 are using a fully remote model, and 15 are using an in-person model. 

In preparation for in-person learning, the district is honing in on face or mask coverings, maintaining physical distance, hand hygiene, and personal protective equipment. 

Lummis pulled up the same photo sent to the Times of the teachers sitting at desks in a West Parish classroom, explaining that would be the most crowded classroom across the district. 

The distance between students in the classrooms of Beeman Elementary School will be 3 to 5 feet, East Gloucester Elementary School will be 4.5 to 6 feet, Plum Cove Elementary School will be 6 feet, Veterans Memorial School will be 4 to 6 feet and West Parish will be 3 to 3.5 feet. 

"These are set up for classes based on the number of students who are going to be there," Lummis said, explaining that the current classroom set-up is consistent with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines of having desks distanced 3 feet or more with everyone  wearing masks. 

Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or

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