As Boston Public Schools (BPS) Supt. Brenda Cassellius and Boston Teachers Union (BTU) President Jessica Tang announced on Monday, Jan. 11, an update to the timeline for re-opening school buildings to students, a prominent grass-roots parent organization, that formed in Charlestown and has grown citywide, had its doubts about the sincerity of the plan.
Officials announced an update to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the union and the district to extend key health, safety, and staffing protocols to the future reopening of all school buildings for the remainder of the school year on Jan. 11. That allowed a new timeline for a return to in-person, and hybrid in-person education in the schools. The timeline starts on Feb. with high-needs priority students, and concludes on April 1 with the return of high school students. The detailed timeline is as follows:
•Monday, February 1: All students who have qualified for high in-person priority*
•Monday, March 1 & Thursday, March 4: Students in K0 – Grade 3 (Group A & B)
•Monday, March 15 & Thursday, March 18: Students in Grades 4 – 8 (Group A & B)
•Monday, March 29 & Thursday, April 1: Students in Grades 9 – 12 (Group A & B)
“The best learning environment for our students is in their classrooms, with their peers, under the care of our educators and staff,” said Supt. Brenda Cassellius. “This agreement charts the course for the rest of the school year and establishes a safe return to in-person learning for additional students and staff.”
The hybrid in-person learning model remains an opt-in process for parents and any parent can still choose to keep their students all-remote and not return in-person.
However, Voices of BPS Families said they staged a protest at City Hall once again on Jan. 12, and weren’t totally sold on the plan unveiled one day before Mayor Martin Walsh’s State of the City Address.
“I think we’re glad they finally said something, but it’s not specific enough,” said parent Corey Zehngebot. “We’ve been down that path before…The language is vague – things like ‘tentative’ and ‘pending public health numbers.’ That doesn’t provide a lot of assurance to families that the timeline will transpire as it is laid out. Frankly, the students should be in school before this timeline suggests. The overwhelming evidence is that school is safe and Gov. Baker’s announcement last week that pool testing is available now. We’re exhausted and parents all over the city are exhausted.”
Parent Erica Haydock said the youngest learners should be in school now, and getting them back starting on March 1 is just too far from now.
“The other thing to consider is these are concrete dates and all, but it still means seven more weeks of remote learning for Kindergartners,” she said. “March 1 isn’t a long way away, but it is still seven weeks away. We think the timing of this is suspect given the State of the City Address (this week)…The plan seems like it was rolled out the door for the speech on Tuesday.”
Haydock said they are also worried that the change in leadership will mean further delays as Mayor Walsh potentially leaves. While they said Council President Kim Janey has stood up for education, they are worried things could get lost in the shuffle.
“We’re worried that having this change in leadership could further delay the timeline,” she said.
Through the system-wide agreement, BPS, BTU, and the Boston Public Health Commission will be working collaboratively to take key building preparedness steps in order to further cultivate trust and codify our commitment to implementing the same health and safety protocols currently in place at the 32 schools currently open across all school buildings, including:
•limiting the number of students and staff in a building at one time to ensure social distancing,
•instituting creative scheduling and staffing, among other approaches on hybrid instruction,
•providing air purifiers into classrooms, offices and common areas or highest grade HVAC filters in schools with HVAC systems
•increasing air quality testing and reporting,
•Installing data loggers that provide daily air quality measures in our schools,
•delivering additional personal protective equipment to schools for students and staff,
•offering access to free COVD-19 testing for teachers on site or nearby their school,
•expanding a pilot program for student COVID-19 testing, and
•continuing to report all positive confirmed cases in schools to the school community and the public.
Students recognized as high in-person priority include: High needs/Level 4 students with disabilities; English Learners who are EL levels 1 and 2; Students who are in the care of the Department of Children and Families; Students who are experiencing homelessness; Students with limited or interrupted formal education; and Students identified by their school’s Student Support Team (SST) as requiring additional in-person schooling.