SALEM — It's becoming more clear what the rest of the school year may look like in the Witch City. 

The School Committee on Monday night voted unanimously to both replace all snow days this winter with remote-learning days, and to urge the state to not require standardized MCAS testing this spring. 

Superintendent Steve Zrike also updated the board on school returning plans for the coming months, where he called for the district to fully return to school in some fashion at the start of 2021.

"I'm proposing to return all students to in-person school starting Jan. 4," Zrike said. "The plan would be to create a hybrid option for all grade levels that are currently remote."

The announcement came the same day that students in grades K-2 returned in elementary schools across the city. Sixth grade at Collins Middle and ninth grade Salem High have also switched to a hybrid model, where students spend two days each week in person and three remote. They were singled out as the schools' first grades, where students converge from several different schools.

Though the vote was unanimous, the School Committee took what will likely be a very unpopular position on snow days.

"Seven members just ruined our Salem Public Schools snow days," said Committee chairperson Kim Driscoll, Salem's mayor, as she announced the vote's outcome.

As proposed, what would be snow days this coming winter will instead be fully remote instruction for all students, an ability that has formed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I never found the days at the end of the school year are ever valuable for kids and staff," Zrike said. "I'm more convinced than ever that a remote experience for our students at the moment in which the weather incident occurs is more valuable than extending out the year."

There are challenges to the plan however, such as considering the students who have relied on in-person learning because of things like Internet access, according to Zrike.

The committee also voted 7-0 on a resolution to the state asking for a hold on MCAS testing later this school year.

"We certainly appreciate having an assessment tool," Driscoll said, "but ... I hope the state seeks a waiver for this year."

Committee member Mary Manning went further with her remarks. She started by saying she wants to "abolish the test completely."

"But I don't think I'd get the votes tonight," she said, smiling. "So I'll make a motion that we send, as strongly worded as we can, a resolution."

Zrike moves toward full Jan. 4 return

The superintendent's presentation on returning students next year didn't end with a vote, at least for the time being. 

The plan presents challenges that would need to be addressed, according to Zrike. For example, with class sizes limited to ensure students can be distanced, there will be space and staffing challenges. Transportation is also an issue, since buses can't run at full capacity under the pandemic.

"Literally we don't have access to any more buses," Zrike said. "We have to go outside our normal bus fleet." 

Pitching the idea mid-November means the district can pull it off in January, according to Zrike. The decision to bring more students back on Monday morning was made in October, giving the district time to prepare.

"We do have a lot of work to do in order to do this well," he said.

To read live coverage of this meeting on Twitter, visit bit.ly/36KkBR9.

To respond to this story or suggest another, contact Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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