August 2 2020

School Reopening Update: Current Thinking, Plan Submission Extension, Response to Massachusetts Teachers’ Union

By: BNEWS

Planning for the return to learning in the fall continues and the Burlington School Department has put out a new update on its current thinking. 

 

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Eric Conti said classes are tentatively scheduled to resume student learning on September 10 or September 14, depending on a child’s age/grade.

“Our planning process continues to be guided by a vigilant monitoring of public health data in Massachusetts, and we are encouraged that indicators about the virus continue to move in the right direction,” he said. The Commonwealth’s careful and disciplined approach has enabled our state gradually to begin reopening, in part because of strong compliance with health and safety precautions. The question now on all of our minds is how and when we apply those lessons learned to begin safely reopening our public schools.”

Conti said that every school had to submit a preliminary plan for reopening to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by July 31. This plan had to include options for a full in-school learning, a hybrid of in-person and remote and a full remote model. The final plans are due to DESE on August 10 but Conti said they will be requesting a short extension to August 14. 

“Given the significant changes these plans will require in the way schools operate, we have begun discussions with all employee unions impacted: teachers, paraprofessionals, and service associations,” he said. “We are on a very tight timeline.”

Conti said school leaders know that under normal circumstances, students would be best served in schools every day, interacting with their peers and engaged in live classroom learning. He also acknowledged that remote learning in the spring did present difficulties for students and parents. 

“While our educators and families worked incredibly hard last spring to implement remote learning, we know that approach presented enormous challenges, did not reach all students (particularly those with the greatest needs), and is not an adequate substitute for in-person learning,” he said. “When out of school, our students also lack access to all of the academic, mental, and physical supports that help ensure their social-emotional well-being, particularly in navigating the effects of trauma during these tremendously challenging times. Therefore, I believe our families and students deserve more than a fully remote learning plan.”

The issue, Conti said, is they do not believe they can meet proper social distancing in all of the schools with a full in-person return. They do think they can, however, make significant changes to make a partial return to in-person learning both safe and successful.

“This approach will require strategies to ensure physical distancing, as well as a series of other critical health and safety measures, including wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, screening regularly for symptoms of illness, and staying home from school when sick, among others,” he explained. “Our planning process includes a comprehensive set of strategies and investments to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.”

The plan as it stands now is to bring the students back into school buildings for in-person instruction in smaller, socially distanced groups on a rotating basis, combined with a robust remote learning program (or afternoon activity for elementary students) on the days students are not scheduled to be physically in school.

Conti said these plans also enable them to bring a subset of students in greatest need of in-person instruction and support, particularly students with disabilities and English language needs, back to school everyday in small, distanced settings with all other precautions in place.

“We will be distributing draft schedules next week ahead of our next discussions with the impacted unions because I understand that family planning is as challenging as school planning and that you need as much lead time as possible to plan,” he said. “We recognize that the circumstances of every family and staff member are different, and that no plan will satisfy everyone in our community. But rest assured that we are working diligently to explore every option available to us, that we remain guided by the science to keep our students and staff safe and healthy, and that we will be prepared to make adjustments along the way if the public health conditions or other variables change over time.”

Conti added that as the department moves towards a final plan they welcome input from all stakeholders and invite them to share questions, comments and ideas at the dedicated email address 2020schoolopening@bpsk12.org

Finally, Conti acknowledged that a prominent teachers’ group has publicly come out against the in-person model. 

“I understand that the State Teachers’ Union (MTA) is taking a strong position against having students and teachers return to in-person learning,” he wrote. “The demonstrations that will be happening in the coming days do not reflect all individual teachers. The majority of Burlington teachers with whom I have spoken want to return to their classrooms and their students, but, like all of us, they have safety concerns. Most questions posed by the union were a part of our planning already. Please know that conversations with our local teachers’ union are ongoing and we will work together to minimize risks so that students and teachers can return to school as safely as possible.”

You can watch the latest School Reopening Info Session that Dr. Conti and Superintendent Patrick Larkin taped last Thursday by clicking here.

 

 
Web Design by Polar Design