AMHERST, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The Amherst School District plans to send grade school students pre-K through first grade back to the classroom on Thursday, October 15, for this first time since March.

This latest change comes after an uptick in off-campus UMass cases delayed the start of in-person learning. But school officials said the town of Amherst has only seen four positive cases in the past six weeks.

Youngsters in pre-K through first grade in Amherst will hit the books starting Thursday. It all comes down to the numbers.

“Fortunately, the numbers in our area within the past week have been good," said the superintendent of Amherst Schools, Dr. Michael Morris. "So, we’re able to move forward.”

Morris told Western Mass News that the uptick in off-campus student cases at UMass did not show evidence of community spread in the town of Amherst. Amherst being in the red zone on the COVID-19 map is not a huge concern when sending kids back to the classroom.

“In a non-UMass population in the town of Amherst, we’ve had four cases in the last six weeks. Four cases total," Morris explained.

He also noted the UMass off-campus cases have gone down significantly. But they’re still taking all of the precautions sending kids back to the classes.

"All students should be wearing [a] mask, unless they have a medical disability that doesn’t allow for them to do," he said. "All desks will be six feet apart. We have a significant amount for personal protective equipment for staff members.”

Morris said if the health matrix continues to stay the way they are, they will have students in the second and third-grade head back to the classroom in early November. Then at the end of November, students in fourth grade and up will start the transition back to in-person classes.

But one Amherst resident thinks the timing is too early, with an uptick in COVID-19 cases starting to rise in the northeast.

“I think it’s a little too early. I don’t think that it's an appropriate time to be doing that," said Amherst resident Tara Fredenburgh. "Cases seem to be rising, and I know virtual schooling is hard for the families that are doing that for such young kids. But I think people need to wait it out a little bit longer.”

Morris also added that a survey went out to parents of students in grades pre-K to first grade, and about 67 percent of families chose for their kids to return to in-person learning.

Copyright 2020 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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