June 24 2020

School Committee Discusses Guiding Principles for School Reopening Plan

By: Rich Hosford

The School Committee reviewed a number of guiding principles put forward by the administration aimed at offering help in the planning process for the start of school in the fall. 


Superintendent Eric Conti said that much of how the schools reopen and what procedures are in place will be determined at the state level by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Those guidelines are expected to be finalized in the next week or two. However, what local decisions are to be made, he said, should be based on guiding principles that the School Committee members agree upon. 


“When we jump right into solutions the conversations become much more reactive,” he said. “There will be some decisions about remote learning that may not please everyone and the guiding principles means that our plan for the fall will do the best for 3,600 kids. Every parent will be advocating for their child or children. as they absolutely should, but our responsibility in putting the plan together means it needs to do the best for all kids.” 


That’s why Conti suggested taking a big-picture look at the principles first and then use them to guide their decisions about more minute aspects of the fall plan. 


“I’m not looking to decide tonight whether we have plastic partitions or cardboard partitions and whether we have cloth masks or disposable masks, those decisions are coming,” he said. “I want the five of you to talk about some guiding principles, reach an agreement, and I think that will help decide which direction the staff goes in.”


The principles he put forward for the committee are to consider are as follows: 


- Opening plan should reflect the safety recommendations by the MA Department of Public Health for both students and staff.

- Social-emotional & physical wellness of students and staff takes precedence over academics

- Remote/on-line learning cannot replicate students’ experiences in their school communities with their teachers, administrators, peers, and support staff. 

- The more independent the learner, the lower the negative impact of remote learning.

- Students who require specialized supports to reenter school will have a different reentry to meet their needs.

- The district will prepare to seamlessly move between in-person instruction and remote instruction, if the school buildings are closed again.

- Transportation will not be guaranteed as prior to the Pandemic.

- Collaboration between grade levels and subject areas within and across schools will be prioritized for consistency and coherence. 

- Special subject areas - art, music, physical education, library, and computer science will continue to be an important component of learning.

- Every opportunity will be made to have instruction happen outside.

- We are committed to providing technology for all students that can be accessed at home and at school and will expand our 1:1 learning program for home use.

- Student privacy will be considered in all applications used for remote learning.

The feedback from School Committee members was positive. They came to the consensus that they would think about them further and have a more thorough discussion about them at the next meeting. 


“It is a very well thought out set of guidelines,” member Martha Simon said. “I do feel at first look that making sure every student and staff is safe and social and emotional well being is prioritized is something I would support.”  


Finally, there was a question about whether parents would be able to participate in the planning for the upcoming school year. Superintendent Conti said he would welcome parent feedback in those areas under local control but that he would go with the state guidelines even if they are not popular among parents. 


“I think there will be opportunities for the community to be involved,” he said. “But if a group of parents wants to overrule the Department of Public Health, we’re not going to do that.”


The School Department is inviting parents to weigh in on the principles listed above. Click Here to submit feedback and questions. 


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