School return concerns are many

Jul 30, 2020 by

Published July 31, 2020

MELROSE — Parents had plenty to say about the local schools’ reopening proposal released last weekend by the city’s new chief educational officer Dr. Julie Kukenberger.

The plan, which must be submitted July 31 to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, calls for a couple of options in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kids can learn remotely one week and physically go to school each day until lunchtime the next. Or they can learn completely at home. The choice is up to the caregivers. And things are always subject to change.

The superintendent and her administrative team explained their reopening vision to the School Committee, about two hours after 481 people participated in the public input portion of Tuesday night’s meeting.

Several parents said the hybrid model — one week in school, one week learning remotely — puts a significant strain on households with people working to make ends meet. “This doesn’t work for single parents or those considered essential workers,” one resident said. “This means me sacrificing my job and our income and our economic stability so I could sit with my son all day in front of a (computer) screen and getting nothing out of school.”

Still others questioned what kind of compliance measures will be taken to ensure masks are being worn and kids and staff are staying a safe distance from each other during the in-school sessions.

In researching how to reopen schools that have been closed since the middle of March, Kukenberger said administrators “sought feedback from multiple stakeholders in the creation of this plan for return to instruction. In the spring, small groups of educators met to help begin the planning around instruction, social-emotional learning needs, and technology. Much of the work from the spring will support all three of the models outlined in this document. In the spring, administrators also met with METCO and English Language Learner ( ELL) families to discuss challenges they had experienced during the unexpected period of remote learning. The district administered a survey to parents, teachers, and students in the spring to gather feedback on the implementation of remote learning. The District Leadership team analyzed the data, which was used to help inform this document. In July, MPS staff members completed a survey indicating their comfort level in returning to school.

“In addition, school principals meet with their building based labor management teams on a weekly basis and continue to meet with staff on an ongoing basis throughout the summer. The Superintendent has engaged with a group of parent stakeholders that included representation from Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), elementary and secondary parents, and METCO families. ThoughtExchange was used to gather input from the community, families, and staff on what the return to instruction would look like. All of that data was analyzed and informs the planning of this document. We will also continue to seek feedback on this proposed plan and expect additional revision to address students, families, and staff needs.”

As the return to instruction plan was being devised, Kukenberger said health, safety and well-being of students and staff; a commitment to ensuring all students experience success through equity and access, and the need to provide for excellence in teaching and learning with high quality instruction were the guiding principles, and will continue to be during implementation of the plan and its continued evolution.

She said the school system has already made numerous investments to prepare for the beginning of the school year for all possible scenarios for the return to school.

• Flexible student desks have been ordered for classrooms that currently have tables.

• The district budget insured continued staffing levels.

• All school staff will have access to COVID-19 testing in late August.

• School nursing staff at the Franklin has been increased by .2 so it is now staffed with a full time nurse. An additional school nurse was added to the secondary campus so each building now has two full time nurses.

• The district has procured safety supplies including 10,000 masks. Additionally, supplies of clear masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, cleaning supplies, and hand sanitizer for each classroom and high traffic areas have been ordered.

• All sinks have been equipped with soap and paper towels. Plexiglass barriers for the front office staff were added. The district has acquired equipment to de-densify common areas — drop off, pick up, hallways, cafeteria, etc.

• The district has also committed to increasing technology access. All teachers will receive this summer a laptop computer that will allow them to work remotely. In addition, the district has ordered additional Chromebooks that will support implementation of a one to one learning environment.

Kukenberger explained, “This summer, the district implemented small summer programming that involved both in-person and remote synchronous instruction. The district is documenting all of the learning from these programs. Policies and procedures developed through the program will support implementation in the fall. Teachers are also implementing new instructional methods and piloting new instructional software that will inform the implementation of our teaching and learning models in the fall.

Phases of Implementation

Until such time as we are able to fully return to school in-person, the Melrose Public Schools plans to implement a Hybrid Learning Model. After weighing the advantages and disadvantages of various models of learning, it became clear that the Hybrid Learning Model  best meets the needs of the Melrose school community at this time. Families will be asked to select from the following options:

• Alternating in-person/remote schedule, or

• Remote only option.

In the first option, students alternate between in-person and virtual instruction every other week. Alternatively, students may opt to participate in a remote only option. 

Once a student is assigned to a group, they should plan to remain in that model for the entire school year (or until such time that we return to pre-COVID-19 conditions). Note that in either scenario, students who have an IEP or a 504 plan will receive their required services. All ELL students will also receive required services. These services will take place either remotely or in-person, depending on individual circumstances.

The following outlines the implementation of the Hybrid Learning Model this fall.

Phase I: August 31-September 3 – Professional Development and Training; this time will allow all staff to effectively plan for the implementation of our MPS Hybrid Learning Model described later in this document.

This will require a waiver of the 180-day school requirement (which has been done). The DESE Commissioner has indicated he may reduce the requirement to allow for the additional staff training needed to prepare staff for the return for instruction.

Phase II: September 8-11 – Relationships, Routines, and Resilience; during this time we will begin to support the return to instruction by establishing routines for learning and distributing materials.

Opportunities will be created for our youngest learners in grades PK-5 and those in a transition year, grades 6 and 9, to meet their teachers, see their school and classroom, and connect with classmates in a safe and appropriate way.

Students in grades 7, 8, 10. 11, and 12 will engage virtually.

Phase III: September 14: Full Implementation of the Schedule; on this date, we will launch the full implementation of the Hybrid Learning Model for all students.

We will continue to focus on relationships, routines, resilience, building stamina, and community connections.

Phase IV: TBD: New Normal; during this phase, we will return back to in-person instruction with increased health and safety measures in place or transition to full remote learning for all. Both scenarios are dependent on our local context.

Summary of Learning Models

Learning Model: In-Person Learning with Safety Requirements

Melrose Public Schools has conducted a feasibility study to determine the number of students that can safely be accommodated in our schools. Based on the feasibility study results, all students and staff cannot return to in-person learning when maintaining six feet of physical distance and meeting all health and safety guidelines. The school buildings’ capacity in our district and the current staffing levels do not support this scenario. For all students and staff to safely return to in-person learning, physical distancing requirements would need to be relaxed to a minimum of three feet. Although a physical distancing standard of three feet would increase the building capacity for students to be in-person, this model would not allow us to maintain established safety guidelines. At this time, an in-person learning model is not possible.

Learning Model: Hybrid Learning

The MPS has designed a model of Hybrid Learning that takes into account the varying and unique needs of students at each grade level. The Hybrid Learning model provides K-12 students and staff with a combination of in-person and remote teaching and learning experiences.

Families will be asked to select one option from an alternating in-person/remote schedule (Group A) or a remote only option (Group B). Students identified as high priority considering state guidance may receive in-person instruction each school day (Group C).

The return to instruction plan gives examples of what each group’s academic day would look like. The hybrid plan calls for grade school students to be dismissed for the day at lunch when they are doing in-person learning.

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