Wellesley Public Schools Supt. David Lussier said during this week’s School Committee meeting that “there’s still a lot of moving parts, I think is the headline that remains.” So there, we made it the headline above.
Among those parts that are still moving are the launch of a remote learning school for about 500 students alongside the hybrid school reopening plan that the school system has articulated and tentatively been agreed upon with the Wellesley Educators Association. School begins online-only for all students on Sept. 16, then those who are taking part in the hybrid plan will begin attending school in person at the start of October. Additional logistical and safety measures will be worked out and implemented during the period between those two dates. WPS is looking to lock students into the online or hybrid model as of this week, and is encouraged parents to stick with their decisions through the semester unless extenuating circumstances arise.
Lussier acknowledged “there’s a lot of anxiety among teachers about going back” even though Wellesley is deemed a “green community” by the state based on its low COVID-19 case count per 100,000 residents. Staffing is challenging to say the least, given that 90% of staff lives elsewhere, so they are coping wth balancing their local school system models with Wellesley’s to address childcare and other needs. Wellesley is doing its best to be flexible and match the skills of teachers who need to work from home with available slots in the remote school, Lussier said.
Dozens of jobs are listed on the WPS website, many with the terms “anticipated vacancy” and “1 year assignment” attached to them. Lussier declined to get into specifics during a Board of Health meeting earlier in the day, when asked about the number of teachers taking leave or students fleeing to private schools or home schooling.
During the School Committee meeting, Lussier spelled out the metrics that the school system will use to determine moving from hybrid to remote or even a full return, and noted that the Town of Wellesley has updated its COVID-19 information hub to highlight the stats that the school system will be using to determine its course. These include new cases per 100,000 (14-day rolling average), positivity rates among those tested, and related stats for the communities in which staff live. Note that town will be factoring in numbers not just for Wellesley, but for the county and state, to ensure nothing sneaks up on us, even if Wellesley’s numbers are below target thresholds.
Among the other moving parts: You may notice tents popping up near school buildings to allow those attending in person to get breaks outside the buildings, sometimes for class, sometimes for lunch, sometimes just to get fresh air (new filters being installed in schools will clean air indoors). The School Committee warned that the tent placements, which meet ADA requirements, could interfere with some youth sports programs, so patience was urged.
Parents will begin getting information about their kids’ elementary school teachers next week once they provide their contact information on the school parent portal. Middle School students will learn homeroom teachers and guidance counselors first, then the rest of their information when school starts. High schoolers will get their course and teacher information on Sept. 9.
Another moving part is the proposed COVID-19 viral testing program that Dr. Lussier and others in the school system say would play a critical role in allowing in-person classes to continue once they start. The School Committee on Aug. 19 authorized a request for proposal for an outfit to run such a testing program, and that RFP was written with an eye toward not burdening the Board of Health. Things are moving fast: The goal is to select a vendor by the end of next week and get baseline testing of the school community going by the end of the month.
The aforementioned Board of Health meeting included an overview of the RFP, which board members say they wish they had been involved earlier in the RFP development process. Board of Health Chair Shep Cohen raised concerns about the RFP, stressing the Health Department’s need to focus on the overall public’s health and not just that of the school community. The Board of Health wants to ensure that systems already in place, including with partner Newton-Wellesley Hospital, aren’t compromised. The handling of contact tracing and other issues also arose. So discussions continue.