As COVID-19 Cases Start to Rise in Some Neighborhoods, BPS Eyes Two School Reopening Models

With the percentage of residents testing positive for COVID-19 on the rise in some Boston neighborhoods, Boston Public School Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius released an updated draft plan of BPS’s reopening in the fall that rules out ‘full’ in-person learning.

As of today, BPS is eyeing two options– reopening school remotely for all students or reopening school in a hybrid learning model through which students alternate between returning to school buildings and continuing to learn remotely.

However, with more and more surrounding communities that were hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic like Everett opening for remote learning for the first quarter of the school year, sources close to the BPS plan say remote learning will most likely be the plan for Boston schools in the fall if COVID numbers keep rising in neighborhoods across the city.

In a letter to parents attached to BPS’s updated draft plan, Dr. Cassellius said the upcoming school year will look and feel different than any Boston has previously experienced.

“Never before have we started a school year in the midst of a global health crisis,” said Cassellius. “In less than ten months, the COVID-19 coronavirus has taken the lives of far too many and changed the very foundations of how we gather as a community. The new school year is also arriving in the midst of another profound change in our nation. In that spirit of community, we will continue to support each other, follow public health guidelines to keep each other safe, honor each other’s dignity and treat each other with respect, always guided by the fact that we can accomplish anything when we work collaboratively together.”

According to Cassellius Executive Summary of the BPS reopening plan students will be going back to school either remotely for all students or reopening school in a hybrid learning model through which students alternate between returning to school buildings and continuing to learn remotely.

“We have not yet made a final decision regarding which of these options is best for the students of the Boston Public Schools,” said Cassellius. “We continue to monitor local health data and will be guided by the advice of our public health officials. We have decided that BPS will not reopen this fall with all of our students gathered in our school buildings together at the same time.”

As BPS continues to work to decide whether it is best to start the school year fully remote or with a hybrid learning option,there are several foundational decisions that will shape BPS’s decision.

Cassellius said science will drive BPS decisions.

“BPS will only reopen our school buildings to students and staff if and when the Boston Public Health Commission determines it is safe to do so given its constant monitoring of public health metrics,” she said. “Once made, the decision may change. As the virus continues to evolve, our decision-making will continue to evolve as well.”

A final decision will not be made until BPS partners weigh in and are heard.

“We have included school leaders, teachers, other staff and BPS families in the past several months of planning,” said Cassellius. “The Reopening Task Forces are currently meeting to contribute their ideas in order to improve this draft plan. As new ideas are received and old ones are improved, updated versions of this plan will be released.”

Cassellius admits the outlined hybrid model is not perfect and many have commented that the simultaneous teaching of students in person and online is impossible for BPS teachers to do, no matter what technology supports are provided.

“Now is the time to identify how BPS teachers can equitably teach all students – each of whom is legally entitled to structured instructional time, every day of the school year,” said Cassellius. “That is the task before us; the time to complete that task is now.”

In the end Cassellius said no matter how BPS starts school in the fall, students and staff will be back in school buildings in some manner, on some schedule, at some point during the 2020-2021 school year.

“As such, we are enriched by, and dependent on, the full community’s continued commitment to working collaboratively to ensure that all of our students are safe and fully engaged in learning,” she said.

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