The Wellesley School Committee (SC) met on Aug. 6 to hear the Wellesley Public School (WPS) administration’s presentation for a reopening plan for the 2020-21 academic year. The WPS was required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to submit three models by July 31: a full in-person model; a hybrid; and a full remote learning model.
Superintendent David Lussier, instead of making the community sit through the gory details of all three models submitted to the State, led with the spoiler: “The hybrid is our recommended model.” Lussier said the administration wants the schools to go hybrid because the WPS cannot support a full return of students for the fall based on Wellesley’s current reopening standards.
It’s largely a matter of social distancing. The State says that a three-foot distance between students is permissible. If Wellesley got on board with that idea it’s certain that many more students could be brought back into the schools at one time. Still, “No one felt comfortable that three feet was adequate,” Lussier said. Also, even if a three-feet social distancing standard was adopted, Wellesley still would not be able to bring back 100% of the students for a classic five-day in-school educational model due to space constraints. With a hybrid model, 50% of students would attend school in a school building on any given day.
Lussier cited safety as the main school reopening priority, balanced with an equal interest in the social and emotional well-being of students, staff, and families. There’s certainly a lot to balance in the upcoming academic year. The WPS must ensure that the full elements of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) will be delivered. In addition, the schools have high-priority work ahead that they want to accomplish around race, equity, and inclusion. And, Lussier said, “We heard loud and clear about academic rigor.”
Families are being assured that there will be increased expectations for the remote learning part of the hybrid model. Attendance will be taken. Participation will be mandatory. And the early pandemic days last spring that ushered in a certain relaxation about grading will no longer apply. In short, the idea is a return to the days of high academic standards, regular feedback, and an increase in the amount of live time in remote learning.
The nitty gritty
Based on responses to the Family and Educator surveys, which were sent out online in July, there was a clear preference in the community for a hybrid model that alternates within each week. In applying such a model, students would attend “fixed days” within each week.
Something you need to know: it is suggested that half-day Wednesdays be instituted across grades for the entire year. All students would engage in remote learning on Wednesday mornings. Afternoons would be set aside for staff to plan and to participate in professional development.
So for example, Cohort A would attend school on Monday/Thursday and learn remotely on Tuesday, 1/2 day Wednesday, and Friday.
Cohort B would attend school on Tuesday/Friday and learn remotely on Monday, 1/2 day Wednesday, and Thursday.
Prioritized Students (those who particularly struggle with remote learning) would attend school on Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday, and learn remotely on 1/2 day Wednesday.
If you’re wondering if Cohort A will get fewer in-person days than Cohort B due to Monday holidays, the answer is yes. The Monday/Thursday cohort would have 57 in-person days under the proposed hybrid schedule, and the Tuesday/Friday cohort would have 62 in-person days.
As for Wednesdays becoming a half day for the middle and high schools for the entire year (normally that’s a monthly thing), some parents feel that adds up to a lot of lost instruction time.
However, Lussier points out that the administration plans to repurpose the half-day Wednesdays during weeks with holidays or other events to balance the number of overall in-person days for each student cohort.
Here’s a handy visual, presented by Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Joan Dabrowski.
The above visual reflects three types of students: four-day in-school students; hybrid students; and fully at-home students. There will likely be some families who will opt out of the above models and take a different approach to educating their children. The rubber hits that particular road during the week of Aug. 10. That’s when parents are asked to indicate the model in which their student(s) will participate (or not), and teachers are asked to formally indicate their intentions to return (or not).
“We know we’re asking a lot of our educators,” Lussier said, acknowledging that the Wellesley Education Association recommends a fully remote-learning model start to the school year.
“That approach will take too long and will ultimately lead to a hybrid,” Lussier said. “We believe we can scale up at a faster pace to get students and staff in schools in person.”
The world truly might be ending
Brace yourself: the State has approved reducing the number of school days for students from 180 days to 170 days. I’ve seen the skies open, the earth shake, the snow fall for days upon days upon days, only to be told school would continue into June as far as it took to get in those 180 days. Nobody, but nobody, cared about our planned mid-June trip to Disney World. Whatever. So we missed 5th grade clap-out. But that’s another story.
Check this out — the first ten days may be teachers and staff only, with students not required to report for duty until Sept. 15:
Health and wellness
During Citizen Speak, several parents voiced concerns about what could trigger the schools to close. One parent said, ” I would love to know the district’s threshold for positive tests before a classroom closes down,” ending her comments with, “I want to thank the administration, staff, and teachers for all they’ve done this summer.”
Another parent was concerned about classroom realities including cleaning and ventilation. “I think the teachers are going to have a whale of a time getting the kids to keep the face masks on,” he said.
Interestingly, Wellesley is looking into procuring semi-permanent and permanent structures to facilitate outdoor learning.
Lussier said that ultimately the thresholds and triggers that might cause the schools to close would have to be benchmarked against State standards that so far have not been provided. As of right now, such standards appears to be a matter for municipalities in partnership with their health departments to decide.
So if a kid or a teacher tests positive in a classroom, does that classroom get shut down? Does a positive test in one classroom affect adjacent classrooms? Will in-school testing of students and teachers be a part of health protocols? More to come on all of that.
The success of bringing students and faculty back for a hybrid model will, says Lussier, largely depend on what he called a community compact. “We must all remain committed to wearing masks, washing hands, remaining socially distanced.”
- Aug. 13: School Committee vote on the WPS SY20-21 Reopening Plan
- Aug. 14: WPS SY20-21 Reopening Plans due to DESE