The up-Island school committee voted Tuesday to approve a plan to bring all students at the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools back to the classroom five days a week, marking a step forward in an Islandwide effort to fully re-open schools.

The prospect of returning to a more regular school schedule was first raised by school superintendent Matthew D’Andrea at an all-Island committee meeting last week. Mr. D’Andrea announced his intention to bring all elementary and middle school students regularly back to the classroom beginning in November, but deferred to principals to formulate individual re-entry plans, based on enrollment and space constraints. The plans will be subject to approval by local school district committees, Mr. D’Andrea said.

The announcement marked a turning point in a months-long re-opening process begun early this fall. Since Sept. 17, elementary and middle school students have been slowly phasing back into in-person instruction, with kindergarten through fourth graders currently back in the classroom four times a week and students grades 5-8 set to return for some in-person learning this week.

On Tuesday, principals at the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools moved the process forward, joining Oak Bluffs as the second Island district to vote on an expanded re-entry plan.

In West Tisbury, principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt proposed bringing students in grades K-5 back for full five-day weeks beginning Nov. 2. Students in grades 6-8 — who were previously set to return only two days per week — will also begin five-day weeks on Nov. 17, she said.

At the Chilmark School — a K-5 program — principal Susan Stevens announced that as of Tuesday, all students at the school had returned to the classroom. Under Ms. Stevens’s expanded plan, the students will begin a five-day schedule on Nov. 6.

Under both plans, younger-grade students will attend an abridged four-hour school day in the immediate future, but plans to expand the school day and institute school-wide dropoff times are in the works, depending on school transportation availability, principals said.

Both plans have been approved by the health and safety subcommittee and will feature six-foot distancing between students, principals said.

“We will not be changing any of the [safety] standards that we have in place and that we’ve presented,” said Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt. “We built our plan for the return to school so if kids are 100 per cent remote, that can happen and if kids are 100 per cent in, that can happen.”

Re-opening progress will depend on low case rates Islandwide, as determined by virus metrics released weekly by the boards of health, Mr. D’Andrea said, noting that in the event of an outbreak, the schools will follow state-issued protocol for scaling back. A version of the protocol will be sent to families for reference, he said.

During the meeting, some committee members, including Robert Lionette, raised concerns over the plan’s shortened school days. Mr. Lionette exhorted both principals to consider extending the days to a more typical five-hour length, if possible.

But others, like committee member Skipper Manter, pushed back, noting a recent letter written by Chilmark School staff requesting that school days remain short to preserve student and teacher stamina.

Responding to concerns, Mr. D’Andrea said he plans to meet with the transportation department this week to sort out timing challenges, paving the way for further discussion of school day length.

Pushing the process along, the committee voted 4-0-1 in favor of both re-opening plans, with Kate DeVane abstaining.

In other business Tuesday, the committee reviewed a preliminary draft of the budget for FY22, including contractual staff salary increases. In its current form, the budget is up $255,467, or 2.03 per cent, school business administrator Mark Friedman said.

Looking to the future, committee members requested that the next discussion of the budget include details on site-specific expenses for the Chilmark and West Tisbury schools, projected Covid expenses — as well as information on the allocation of CARES act money from the previous fiscal year — and information on the district’s capital projects’ expenses.

At the behest of Mr. Manter, the committee also agreed to include an estimation of school health insurance premiums, as well as a $50,000 increase in the Other Post Employee Benefits (OPEB) line.

The next discussion of the budget will take place at the committee’s Nov. 16 meeting.