Wellesley High School returned to a hybrid model of education on Tuesday, after students spent a week learning remotely due to an increase in positive COVID-19 test results. Data located on the district’s COVID dashboard reflects that in the date range of Jan. 8 – Jan. 21 there were 22 positive tests in the public school system, with the highest number during that time (10) coming from WHS. The high numbers caused a shift at the high school to full remote learning.
Superintendent David Lussier during the Jan. 12 School Committee meeting said the data is essential in allowing the district to take “targeted actions that might be appropriate at one school that really aren’t warranted at other schools. While we never want to see schools closed, period, the fact that we’re able to target this for one school at a particular time speaks to how much we’ve learned.”
Some parents, however, are concerned about the impact of remote learning on the quality of education that is delivered, and the impact of remote learning on students’ mental health. A letter about this was signed by hundreds of parents and sent to school and other town officials.
The upshot: a large number of parents want their kids back in school full time.
The school and health departments are reworking the public schools reopening measures dashboard, whose underlying measures need to be updated in light of new data from the town and beyond regarding COVID-19. Currently, Wellesley Public Schools are failing all three measures highlighted in the dashboard.
Our take: we’d like to be wrong on this, but in reading between the lines, it seems unlikely that there will be a return to full-time school across grade levels for the rest of the year. Though the vaccine could allow some changes.
Why students aren’t back in school full-time
In an effort to manage expectations while addressing parent concerns, Lussier said that the overarching goal has been to “bring back students within grade levels who have exceptional needs, whose needs can’t be met adequately through remote learning.”
Additional prioritized students are those in Pre-K, K, and grades 1 and 2. Those students are back in school four days per week. Wednesday, traditionally a half-day for Wellesley’s elementary school students, is a remote learning half-day.
The biggest consideration on bringing back the rest of the grades centers around social distancing. The WPS have in place a a 6-feet social distance standard, which is in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control standard.
“We believe that standard needs to stay in place for now” to prevent in school transmission, Lussier said. In addition, “We don’t have anymore spaces to be bringing back any more whole grade levels.”
Lussier also cited as concerns the increased need for contact tracing that would result should additional whole grades be brought back into the schools; lunch-time, with its no-mask environment; and bus transportation needs for K – grade 6 students who live over two miles from school. By state law, the district must provide transportation to those students.
School budget, FY2022
Under guidelines the School Committee received from the Select Board, there is to be an increase in the FY22 budget of no more than 2.5%. “That’s quite slim,” said Linda Chow, “but certainly a reflection on the times we’re in and the impact of COVID on town finances.”
In FY2021, Town Meeting voted to appropriate $80,379,651 to the schools. A 2.5% increase would boost the FY22 schools budget by a little over $2 million.
The budget will be strictly a service-level affair, the goal being to hang onto all educational programming at the level at which it now operates at the very least. There will be no expected investments in new programs. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that all current programming is safe from potential cuts.
One line item that can substantially fluctuate upward: the money set aside for special education needs. The FY22 budget currently is based on the town’s known special education needs, but variables are always possible. “The budget is based on only the known costs we have in special education, or that can be reasonably anticipated,” Lussier said.
Level services may also need to include additional student interventions to close education gaps created by the pandemic.
Jan. 26: School Committee meeting
Watch School Committee Meetings online at wellesleymedia.org
Comcast 8 & 9
Verizon 39 & 40
Feb. 2: School Committee meeting and public hearing. The community is invited to ask specific questions and make comments during this meeting.
Feb. 9: School Committee votes on the budget
Mar. 3: Advisory Committee will review the SC budget
Apr./May 2021: Town Meeting