Andover High will reopen to students for full-time classroom learning on May 17, school officials said.
Parents will decide whether their children will attend classes at the school five days per week or instead do remote learning from home the rest of the school year, officials said. The school district is sending a survey to parents asking about their choice between classroom and remote learning, and also their opinions on other school issues, said Superintendent Claudia Bach.
When the state ordered that students must return to classrooms full time by May 17 or choose full-time remote learning instead, Andover school officials said they would not seek a waiver to allow students to continue hybrid learning. During the pandemic, most Andover students used the hybrid program — a mix of days in classrooms and remote learning.
Several weeks ago, Andover officials said it was unlikely the high school would return to full-time classroom learning because of space problems caused by pandemic distancing rules. Those rules include: students' desks spaced 3 feet apart in classrooms and students wearing masks while at their desks; and students staying 6 feet apart when not wearing masks.
Andover High has been overcrowded for years, and school officials said most classrooms can hold only 15 students when social distancing rules are observed. That leaves a lack of classroom space if all or most students choose to return to full-time in-person learning, the officials say.
"The high school ... was built and renovated years ago for 1,400 (students) and we have over 1,700 students now. Some (students) will be remote (learners), but we do expect more students to come back," Bach said, explaining that at the elementary and middle school levels more students chose full-time classroom learning than remote.
Because of the high school space issue, Andover asked state education officials for help deciding how to bring students back to the building. The state made a variety of recommendations about moving furniture and desks to create classroom space, local officials said.
"It was a very polite and positive and proactive visit," Bach said. "They came in with their tape measures and looked at the size of the classrooms.
"We are now anticipating ... following social distance protocol, we may be able to have more students in the classrooms than we thought (possible)," Bach said. "The hope is that will alleviate the number of students in the field house, Collins Center or Dunn Gym."
The high school is placing student desks in the field house, Collins Center and Dunn Gym to house children who do not fit into classrooms, Bach said. She said the school district is seeking volunteers and to hire people to monitor students in those overflow areas. The district has had difficulty finding enough people to fill such positions, she said.
"Parents have said in the past they want to help and make this happen, so this is a way we are reaching out to our parents to say this is a way to help," Bach said. "I thought there would be a bigger response when we were bringing children back. But we aren't getting the great response we wanted."
Transportation is also an issue. Currently, the school district is not busing students to Andover High because that is not required by law. High school students are left to walk, be driven or drive to school.
Careful bus scheduling of children in grades below high school has left a "handful of buses to devote to high school students," Bach said. Parents will be asked about transportation in the survey being sent to them, officials said.
Andover High Principal Caitlin Brown is hosting information sessions with parents to discuss school issues.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel,'' Bach said. "We've brought back our elementary and middle (students) and they are thrilled and we are making progress. ... It's really raised the spirits of everyone."