BEVERLY — The School Committee took two key votes Wednesday night, one for students in grades 7-12 to switch to a hybrid model on Sept. 29 and the other allowing students to play fall sports.
The first vote means students in the upper grades will start school remotely as planned on Sept. 16, then switch to a hybrid model on Sept. 29.
The plan to pivot to a combination of in-school and remote learning on Sept. 29 came on the recommendation of Mayor Mike Cahill, who said the low numbers of coronavirus cases in the city have created a “window of opportunity” for students to return to in-person learning.
“I don’t think the data’s going to get any better,” Cahill said. “I don’t want to miss that window for our students.”
The vote was 4-3. Rachael Abell, Kimberley Coelho, Lorinda Visnick and Cahill voted in favor of the Sept. 29 pivot to hybrid. Kelley Ferretti, John Mullady and Kaarin Robinson voted no.
Some committee members felt it was too soon to set a date for students to go back in the building.
“My concern is we’re putting them in just to pull them out,” Ferretti said. “That’s more detrimental.”
The School Committee voted for a hybrid model for younger students last month, but for grades 7-12 to attend school remote-only.
The committee also made Beverly the latest North Shore community to decide to play high school sports this fall. It voted 6-1 to allow most Beverly High School teams to take part in the fall sports season, following similar votes over the past few days in Salem, Peabody and at Masconomet Regional High School.
Ferretti was the lone vote against fall sports.
The votes go against recommendations by Northeastern Conference high school principals and athletic directors, who had recommended last month that fall sports be postponed to a newly created “Fall 2” season between Feb. 22 and April 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But school committees have the final say on the matter, and Beverly’s became the latest to commit to the fall season.
The vote by the School Committee means that Beverly High will play soccer, field hockey, cross country, volleyball and golf in the upcoming season, with practice starting Sept. 18. Football and cheering, which have been deemed higher risk sports, will not play until the “Fall 2” season.
The original votes by principals and athletic directors to postpone the fall season sparked protests by students in Danvers, Peabody and, on Wednesday, in Beverly. About 40 students stood outside Beverly High in the afternoon, holding signs that read “Save Our Season” and “Let Us Play,” as drivers passed by and honked their horns.
Freshman Lucy Stevens, who plays field hockey, said high school students need sports to help offset the isolation of remote learning.
“We can’t even go back to school (in person) and they’re also taking away our sports,” Stevens said. “We have nothing to do.”
Junior Grant Eastin, who plays football, said he would prefer to play in the fall, but said it would be “OK” if the season were moved to February, as long as there is a season.
“You don’t get a lot of chances to display your talents,” Eastin said. “I want to play at the next level. Not playing at all would be a deal-breaker.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.