School Committee Weighs Reopening Plans

Reading, MA — Teachers in the Reading Public Schools made their thoughts regarding being forced to perform remote teaching from school buildings known to the School Committee on Thursday, August 27. Over fifty emails from teachers and from parents were received after the official School Committee packet was published earlier in the week. An email from a teacher at each school was selected to be read during the meeting, while the remainder will be published in the packet for the next meeting according to School Committee Chair Chuck Robinson. 

Teacher email topics ranged from doubting the need for such a measure, frustration over the late timing of the guidance from the state, to concerns over childcare and other issues. “Reopening in-person without the necessary technology or staff would only cause frustration and a negative experience for children.” Reading Memorial High School teacher Jessica Bailey wrote. “[Teaching remotely from classrooms] will result in additional leaves of absence and more teacher openings.” Barrows Elementary School teacher Heather Murphy added. 

Upon opening the meeting, the School Committee adjourned to executive session immediately in order to discuss “collective bargaining in regards to the memorandum of agreement” with teachers but offered no comment on the issue of requiring remote teaching in school buildings during the public session. Most parental letters that were read were encouraging the opening of schools as swiftly as possible, especially for graduating seniors.

Upon returning from the executive session Superintendent John Doherty shared a presentation with the committee updating reopening plans for the fall. The phase-in for the in-person portion of the hybrid model has been delayed by several factors including the timing of recommendations from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, staffing vacancies caused by COVID related and other leave requests, and delays in technology shipments, most notable cameras for the classrooms. 

“We don’t have enough people to phase in a hybrid model right now,” Doherty confirmed. The plan still calls for high needs students, preschool students and kindergarteners to be in the building when the school year officially begins on September 15.

There are ninety-seven teachers and paraeducators who are in the inquiry phase attempting to work with human resources to determine what their options are going to be, according to Doherty. “Each case is unique,” he explained.

School Committee member Erin Gaffen questioned Doherty regarding the timing of the hybrid plan if positions are filled. Doherty responded that he was unable to answer at this time but assured the committee, “If there are grade levels that can be phased-in, we will do so.” He later clarified that this would occur district-wide, not school to school.

Doherty continued that there is significant competition to acquire applicants. “There are many school districts going through what we are…this is not unique for Reading,” he shared. Barrows Elementary Principal Beth Leavitt confirmed this, “[There are] not a lot of people applying for these positions.” she stated. “Everyone is working ferociously to fill positions.” Wood End Principal Joanne King School confirmed. Committee member Carla Nazzaro acknowledged the issues faced by the district, “There will be a point when we have to reevaluate our plans.” Nazzaro opined.

“Our staff are deeply committed to our kids in the Reading Public Schools,” Sarah Leveque, principal at Killam Elementary concluded, “Everyone wants to be at school.”

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