November 18 2020

Superintendent Conti Says Schools Not Ready for Full In-Person Instruction

By: Rich Hosford

Burlington Public Schools won’t likely go full in person unless changes are made to the guidance coming from the state. 


Superintendent Eric Conti said during the School Committee meeting on Tuesday that the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is advising school districts in gray, green or yellow communities to have all students have full days in person if possible. 


“The governor has changed some of the state metrics in regards to recommending where schools are in terms of opening,” he said. “I think some of those recommendations are a little premature in my perspective.”


However, Conti said that in Burlington there would have to be changes made to other guidance for that to happen. Most notably, he said that in the high school and Marshall Simonds Middle School the only way they could have all students in the building would be if the state guidance on social distancing was reduced from six feet to three feet. He said the state would also have to convince people that was a safe standard. 


“If the state believes that’s the case they should make that argument,” he said. 


He also said they would have to change the guidance for transportation, which has significantly reduced the number of students allowed on school buses. 


“We can’t have all students go to school with buses at 30 percent capacity,” Conti said. “This needs to be a state conversation.”


The third requirement, Conti said, would be the state’s involvement in collective bargaining with the unions to convince those working remotely to return to the buildings. 


“I believe in local control but in the case of the pandemic we need guidance,” he said about the state. “I appreciate people want kids in for the full day and I do too. But I don’t think we’re ready for full return unless we have support from the state or changes at state level.”


Conti added that having all students who are in the hybrid model switch to being in school all day would also force a lot of changes for student and teacher schedules. 


“We’ll have to basically reconstruct our class lists and schedules in order to make that happen,” he said. 


He said that he has spoken to his counterparts in surrounding communities and none of them are ready for a full return yet either. 


Finally, rather than having all students in the buildings for the full day, Conti said he fears the situation will go in the opposite direction. He pointed to rising cases across the nation and in Massachusetts and said if the trend continues they will likely have to go full remote for least some length of time. 


“We’ve seen rising covid rates in the nation, the state and in the community,” he said. “I think that continues to be troubling.”


In the school system he said they have been seeing an average of two cases per week. One bright spot is that they have not, through contact tracing, found any cases of spread within the schools. All cases had been from outside the buildings. Conti said he credits the precautions they have in place for that success. 


“We have been lucky to not see school spread, but it hasn’t been blind luck,” he said. “We put precautions in place.” 


Finally, Conti said they plan to put out another survey for parents after Thanksgiving and continue to monitor the situation.


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