Essex Tech Announces Plans to Expand In-Person Learning

HATHORNE — Superintendent Heidi Riccio wishes to provide an update about the next phase of Essex Tech’s School Reopening Plan, which was approved by the District School Committee at a special meeting on March 3.

Beginning Wednesday, March 17, students will attend career technical and agricultural education classes in-person, for all five days of each Career Technical Education (CTE) cycle. This will bring 75 percent of the full student body safely to school each day. Academic classes will remain in a hybrid every-other-day in-person or remote learning model. All students will return for all classes at a date still to be determined.

“As a career technical and agricultural school committed to workforce preparation, it is critical to our mission that we transition our students back to in-person learning as soon as possible,” Superintendent Riccio said. “We conducted a parent survey in February and nearly 90 percent of caregivers fully support our effort to return students to school. We are hopeful with the Governor’s announcement regarding vaccinations for K-12 educators that our staff will be prioritized for those who desire to be vaccinated.”

Proposed changes to the Essex Tech learning model are in line with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) updated transportation guidance based on new CDC recommendations that enable more students to ride safely on the bus to school each day. DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley announced on Feb. 23 that he will be recommending an end to counting remote and hybrid learning in Massachusetts public schools as learning hours the state will accept to meet time-on-learning requirements.

“As a parent, I have been so impressed with the specific safety measures and education regarding the safety requirements that Essex Tech has put in place,” said Lisa Pais, a parent of two Essex Tech students and a School Council member. “The hands-on learning at Essex Tech is an unparalleled and necessary component for those students looking to move into a successful career or college experience post-graduation. Moving to more in-person learning is a great next step that will surely provide students even greater success as current students and future successful members of the workforce.”

Students returning to campus during every phase will continue to follow COVID-19 safety protocols of masking, physical distancing, hand washing, and cleaning. The outlook for all students to return to in-person learning remains positive as the school’s COVID dashboard data indicates low numbers of cases for students and staff. School data is supported by statewide public health metrics, which indicate that students can be educated in person safely within schools.

The District is working on plans for a full school reopening, pending further DESE guidance. It also plans to offer summer CTE learning opportunities for students, so they may acquire and build on skills that they may have missed when state officials moved to full emergency remote learning last spring.

“This was a challenging School Committee meeting as there was great conversation related to the Phase 2 Reopening Plan,” Superintendent Riccio said. “We recognize that many educators want to be vaccinated before increasing our in-person student population. However, there is no guarantee as to when vaccinations will occur. Additionally, we believe we are doing this with the best interest of our students in mind.”