On Friday of last week, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 to give Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley the authority to decide when hybrid and remote learning would no longer count towards a student’s Time on Learning Requirements. The vote came after a February 24 press conference in which Governor Baker called for the phasing out of remote learning starting in April. Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Doherty updated parents on this and other issues in his newest Pathways blog post.
“Elementary schools will be back full in person on April 5. No dates were given for Middle and High School. We will be receiving more guidance from the State early this week,” stated Doherty in the post.
Although Doherty favors bringing students back into the classroom full-time, he stated that there are several logistical issues that the Reading Public Schools will face in the phasing out of the hybrid learning model.
“These challenges include the following:
- Vaccine availability for staff so that they can receive their full doses as soon as possible.
- Changing classroom seating distance from 6 feet to as low as 3 feet.
- Quarantining procedures with the change in distance to 3 feet.
- Maintaining lunch distancing with more students (it will still need to be six feet because students will be without masks)
- It is possible we may need to go to 4 lunches each day in some schools”
Other issues include addressing the needs of students who are currently engaged in the fully-remote model of learning, staffing and planning around potential leave of absences, changes in the cleaning schedule and student arrival schedules, and helping students transition on a social-emotional level to learning in-person again.
Doherty and other Middlesex League superintendents expressed similar frustration with the state’s lack of guidance in a March 2 Letter to DESE Commissioner Riley.
“On Friday, February 26, the Middlesex League Superintendents discussed your announcement for a full return of elementary students to in-person learning by April 2021. Currently, our districts are engaged in conversations about what a full return might look like, as is appropriate to the local context. There is nothing that we want more than for all of our students and staff to return to schools full time; however, your declaration without a thoughtful plan only exacerbates the challenges we face in schools and belies the current reality of the situation in which we find ourselves” stated Doherty and others in the letter.
The letter criticized the state for their lack of guidance around lunch and other un-masked activities, the lack of current vaccine availability for staff, as well as the lack of clarity regarding disparate safety recommendations between the guidelines put out by the local board of healths, state health agencies, the CDC, the World Health Organization.
In the face of all of this, Doherty encouraged students and staff in his most recent blog post to participate in the pooled-testing program, and to make sure that they continue to use mitigation tactics such as wearing masks, physical distancing, practicing hand hygiene, and following cleaning and disinfecting protocols while in school facilities.
Doherty also updated staff and RPS families that staff and students PreK-12 participating in the pooled-testing program will be tested this week.
“[Last week’s pooled testing results included] 93 negative pools, one positive (athletics) all retested negative, one inconclusive (staff), retested one positive individual, contact tracing complete,” stated Doherty.
There were ten positive cases of coronavirus affecting students and staff of RPS last week: three positive RMHS students, three Parker students, one Birch Meadow student, one Killam student, one Killam staff member, and one Wood End staff member. A total of 50 students (25 at Parker, 22 at Killam) and eight staff (six at Killam, two at Wood End) were quarantined due to possible close contact with cases at their school.