The Swellesley Report received an email from Kyle Gekopi, president of the Wellesley Educators Association, regarding the upcoming school year.
Gekopi says that the Association is in agreement with Dr. Lussier and the administration’s recommendation to develop a workable hybrid model for the fall (see Wellesley School Committee meeting: schools will likely take on a hybrid model for fall 2020) However, the Association maintains that the best approach is to start school in a remote setting and transition to a hybrid model after appropriate staff training, safety, and needs assessments.
The following letter is to the members of the Wellesley Public Schools Community, on behalf of the Wellesley Educators Association:
Our job is inherently interpersonal, and we want to return to our buildings as soon as possible. Every conversation we explored started with in-person learning, either full-in or a hybrid model.
Our work analyzed every aspect of our practice under the various safety guidelines, faced with two persistent guiding principles: keep our practice developmentally appropriate, and balance the educational benefits of a specific in-person practice against the risk aversion of a remote alternative.
In most, but not all cases, we found ourselves to lack the data or experience to successfully answer the final question that students and educators are asking: is it safe to return to school?
In an effort to gather that data, the Association believes a phased-in approach best positions the community and educators to construct the safest school environment for the following reasons:
1) A remote start is sensitive to the broad, systemic health and safety concerns and emerging research of how the virus is spread and who is at-risk. Combined with educator testing and any necessary modifications to our facilities, we are confident the Wellesley Public Schools will be able to develop a safe environment that engages in mindful risk-management.
2) A remote start keeps our work and learning schedules consistent, and addresses the reality that fluid movement between hybrid and remote models is necessary to maintain the health of students and staff. The current (July 20) DESE guidance is to recommend that students and staff stay home at the first sign of any symptoms related to COVID-19. However, many of these symptoms are combined with seasonal change or other health conditions. Adding this broad symptomatic anxiety will make our school community more susceptible to illness, and it is our hope that further research will result in a responsible revision of self-monitoring practices, allowing the WPS Community to gradually return students to in-person instruction in a phased-in approach, starting with our most vulnerable and youngest learners.
3) A remote start allows educators to get to build initial relationships with students without wearing a mask. We know that facial feedback and learning new faces and voices is important for all levels and all students. Our first impressions must be our authentic selves as educators.
4) A remote start removes the immediate anxiety of policing students’ behaviors and hygiene in a live setting. In consultation with public health experts, a remote start provides educators time to learn behavior management strategies to support healthy hygienic practice in the school setting, especially for our youngest learners.
5) A remote start teaches both educators and the community best practices for the seasonal likelihood of an all-remote setting. A growing chorus of experts is predicting a difficult autumn and flu season, and starting remotely would develop firm behaviors and practices to serve as a foundation in the event of another full shutdown.
6) A remote start fully allows educators to personalize online learning needs, working with students and families by responding to the needs of diverse learners. As we identify learners and practices best served by in-person school supports, educators can work with their colleagues to implement necessary interventions for students who need it most, and at regular intervals.
7) A remote start allows educators to identify equity gaps early in the year and develop systems to respond to the safety and technology needs of parents and students in the Wellesley Public Schools Community. Our educators stand ready to conduct outreach to ensure that every student is responding and learning what they can given our context.
8) A remote start provides teachers, students, and families time and space to learn technology tools together with their students, allowing for effort affirmation and growth.
Ours is a district with privilege and a wealth of scientific and financial resources. We must be mindful of how we can use these systems to support all learners and communities, serving as a model and collaborator for a safe and effective return for all students in the Commonwealth. A remote start to any hybrid model will help us identify the most effective means for starting in-person school gradually by supporting our learners who need it most, while simultaneously remaining socially responsible in curbing community spread. It is important for us to remember that the only acceptable death count for our school community is zero. The stakes have never been higher.
The educators in the Wellesley Public Schools are in love with teaching and care deeply for students, and it is therefore our position that starting remotely will allow us to get back into the classroom quickly, responsibly, and safely.
Kyle Gekopi, President