Hinsdale school officials

From left, recorder Palak Patel, Hinsdale Elementary School Principal Joe Boggio, Superintendent Wayne Woolridge and

Hinsdale School Board member Holly Kennedy meet Tuesday.

HINSDALE — Just shy of a week before students return to class, the Hinsdale School Board on Tuesday approved a reopening plan, including an indoor mask mandate to start and physical-distancing requirements.

The board unanimously adopted the 20-page document after about 90 minutes of discussion with district administrators. The board made only minor adjustments to the revised plan the district posted on its website Monday, ahead of the first day of school Aug. 31. The most substantive change involved making the district’s minimum of three feet of distance between all students and staff “required,” rather than “encouraged” whenever possible.

“I think the way it’s worded, ‘encouraged to maintain 3 feet whenever possible’ is a little too wishy-washy,” board member Holly Kennedy said of the draft plan, before the board approved her change to make distancing mandatory. “… I would like to see some kind of language that would be stronger than ‘encouraged,’ ... just so it’s the norm, rather than ‘Let’s try to do it.’ ”

The board met last Wednesday, but declined to adopt a reopening plan after members expressed concern that the document lacked detail. The district released a three-page draft reopening plan July 28, and the majority of comments at last week’s meeting centered on the district’s mask mandate and the lack of protocols to transition to remote learning if coronavirus cases surge even more.

After last week’s meeting, Superintendent Wayne Woolridge said district administrators met several times and incorporated feedback from the board into the more detailed reopening plan. The updated document includes appendices outlining plans for athletics and the metrics school leaders will use to determine when masks are required, and when schools should switch to remote instruction, if a surge in COVID-19 cases affects operations.

At Tuesday evening’s meeting, which drew no members of the public to the in-person meeting at the district office but did have about 25 viewers on Zoom, board members said they appreciated the administration’s updated plan.

“I want to say thank you, by the way, to everyone for really, on such short notice, coming back with all the detail that I personally think we all had trouble missing last week,” board member Julia Kilelee said. “So this has just been a huge help.”

Board members also said they were satisfied with the district’s intention for teachers to develop “pivot plans” in case schools need to pause in-person learning due to COVID-19.

“Teachers are deciding, ‘How is this going to work for me, how’s it going to work for my students, and how will I communicate it now to parents so they know, too,’” Hinsdale Middle/High School Principal Ann Freitag said of the pivot plans, which she said will be in place by the end of the week.

The Hinsdale district intends to have students attend in-person classes five days a week, with no remote learning option available, as there was last year. As part of the reopening plan, though, the district adopted a decision-making matrix based on state health department guidance to determine when a shift to remote learning might be necessary.

According to the plan, the superintendent, in consultation with the school board and state and local health officials, can order a shift to remote learning if the community is experiencing substantial COVID-19 spread, and the pandemic’s impact on schools, such as a strain on staffing or a cluster of cases, is high.

The board also adopted the state’s decision-making matrix for masks, which calls for universal masking in schools whenever a county has substantial COVID-19 transmission. As of Tuesday, Cheshire County is experiencing substantial transmission, the highest of the state’s three tiers measuring community spread, according to the state health department. The Hinsdale board will re-evaluate the mask matrix on a monthly basis, according to the plan.

Ultimately, after minimal public comments, the board approved the reopening plan 4-0.

Kaylah Hemlow, who formerly served as the vice chair of the five-member board, recently resigned to take a teaching position with the district, Chairman Sean Leary said. The board is currently accepting letters of interest for the open seat, and expects to select an interim member at its September meeting.Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.