Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Doherty released a statement in his newest Pathways blog post regarding Governor Charlie Baker’s and Commissioner of Secondary and Elementary Education Jeffrey C. Riley’s recent calls to prioritize in-person learning five days a week.
“I am in full agreement that getting our students back in person more is the right thing to do. However, from a Reading Public Schools perspective, returning to full-in person learning for all students will come with several logistical and scheduling challenges,” stated Doherty in the blog post.
In a press briefing last Tuesday, Governor Charlie Baker called for the phasing out of remote learning starting in April to make in-person learning possible for every student before the end of the academic year in May.
In his blog post, Doherty outlined what this most recent press release will mean for parents, staff, and students, being quick to point out that the state has not yet approved the move away from hybrid and remote learning models.
“At a future meeting in the next week or so, Commissioner Riley is asking the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to grant him the authority to determine when hybrid and remote models no longer count for learning hours. This would be part of a broader plan, to be released in March, to begin returning more students to in-person learning this spring, assuming our state’s health metrics continue to improve. If he is granted that authority, the Commissioner will pursue a phased approach to returning students to the classroom,” stated Doherty in the post.
Commissioner Riley has stated that the initial goal will be to have elementary school students return to in-person learning five days a week starting on April 5. The return date for middle and high school students has not yet been released.
“[Elementary school] parents will still have the option for their children to learn remotely through the end of the school year. There will also be a waiver process for districts who may need to take a more incremental approach,” stated Doherty.
If the state grants the commissioner this authority, Reading will be required to follow the new regulations regarding in-person, hybrid, and remote education.
“These are regulations, not recommendations, so, if approved, we will be required to follow them unless we qualify for a waiver. The rationale for doing this sooner than later is to work out the challenges of transitioning to school full time during the spring rather than wait until the fall. In addition, if conditions allow, there will no longer be a remote option for parents in the fall if we are fully in-person,” stated Doherty in the post.
Doherty detailed some of the challenges that Reading Public Schools will face if these new regulations to return students to full in-person learning are put into place, issues which ranged from the current state of wide-spread availability of the coronavirus vaccine to how this would impact the current schedule of cohort learning.
“First and foremost, a vaccine is not widely available for our staff at this point. […] In addition, the only way we would be able to implement full in-person learning for all students will be to go below the 6 feet CDC recommended physical distancing in the classrooms. In a typical classroom of 22-25 students, we will need to go as low as 3 feet in the arrangement of student desks, which will require more furniture to be moved from storage into most classrooms in the district,” stated Doherty.
Doherty assured readers that RPS is working to transition toward entirely in-person learning, focusing on health and safety.
“These plans will continue to have a primary focus on health and safety, and we will continue to keep as many of the mitigation efforts that we have in place as possible. In the meantime, we will keep you informed when more information becomes available,” stated Doherty.
The blog post also covered elementary parent survey for the third marking period, updates regarding the start of Fall 2 Sports and the recent implementation of the new hybrid model at RMHS, a SEPAC survey on how students learn to read, and a recent GoFundMe fundraiser to help a Killiam family who recently lost their home in a fire.
Doherty also answered questions regarding the recent implementation of pooled testing and encouraged interested staff and students to participate in the program.
“This week, we will hold pool testing for all staff, athletes, in-person extra-curricular, Preschool, Kindergarten, and High Needs students. During the week of March 8, we plan on testing everyone who has given consent. As we approach more in-person learning, pooled testing is another mitigation strategy to help support our health and safety. This past week, we began pooled testing with staff and athletes,” stated Doherty.
Students will only be contacted if they are part of a positive pool and will be contacted via Remind or text if they need to be retested.
“Parents will get an email to register with Project Beacon, the platform supporting antigen testing, if their child needs to be retested. Project Beacon will send out an immediate notification of test results once antigen testing is complete,” stated Doherty in the post.
According to Doherty, if a student is part of a positive pool, that does not necessarily mean there is a need to quarantine.
“So far, athletes have been pooled in random groups by sport, so those in a pool are not all close contacts. Once a positive case is identified, close contacts are determined. […] As teams are formed, we will test by team, and if there are positive pools, practice may be postponed until follow-up testing can be completed. Because of the current distancing protocols at RMHS, most students in class with each other are not considered close contacts.” stated Doherty.
There were six positive cases of COVID-19 at RPS this past week, affecting two students at Barrows, one at Parker, one at Coolidge, and two at RMHS. Since October, 224 students and staff in Reading Public Schools have contracted COVID-19.