Hybrid Learning For K-4 Pushed Up To Oct. 5; Calls For Grades 5-12 To Follow

Photo: Hybrid plans accelerated

The Belmont School Committee approved moving up the date kindergarteners and elementary students will begin full hybrid learning by two weeks to Monday, Oct. 5, allowing nearly 2,000 students to start partial in-school learning.

“Two weeks is tight but we’re committed to hearing the feedback and responding to the school committee’s desire to have this happen sooner than later,” said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan.

At another marathon committee meeting held remotely on Tuesday, Sept. 22, Phelan told the six member board the district accelerated the start date for K-4 students “reacting and responding to the community feedback that has asked to tightened up” the time between entering each new phase.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee approved the kindergarten and elementary school hybrid schedule which will be used by students. It consists of two cohorts of students attending school three half dsfdays the first week while spending two other days online.

Phelan said the school district is now following a newly redesigned four phase approach, removing the recently installed “bridge” phase and beefing up Phase 2 to include full K-4 hybrid learning. Middle and high school students will remain learning remotely.

While not yet approved by the school committee, the district showed on a PowerPoint slide that grades 5-12 could anticipate entering their hybrid phase on Monday, Oct. 22.

The district’s discussion to accelerate the move to hybrid learning is due to a pair of good news on the health and safety front. Despite a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in the past week, Belmont remains on the “good side” of the state’s health metric. The district is also nearly complete with its project to increase the air flow to all rooms in each of the six school buildings. By meeting these two measures, the district can now move towards hiring the needed teaching staff to handle remote learners and create schedules for children who require transportation.

Current K-4 teachers will use the next two weeks to prepare their classrooms for learning, said Phelan.

Since the start of schools last Wednesday, between 120-130 pre-kindergarteners, students designated as having “high needs” and English language learners are being taught in the four elementary schools with full day instruction, said Phelan.

Under Phase 2, an additional 100 students with special needs and English learners who will be attending both the Chenery and the High School. “This next phase is a real scaling up not just for the elementary schools in full but also for another layer of student at the middle school and high school,” said Phelan.

While praising the work the district has done in getting “our K through 12 students in the door,” School Committee member Michael Crowley asked if there was some possibility to bring the remaining students back into the classrooms “a little bit earlier.”

Saying he might be receiving emails that “won’t be happy with what I’m about say,” Phelan said the scaling up behind the scenes what needs to be done for the middle and high schools – placing students and siblings in cohorts, making sure transportation can be done safely, hiring teachers for remote learners – “is infinitely more complex” compared to the elementary schools.

“We’ve accelerated [the date to enter hybrid learning] twice already and the educators are already very concerned about their ability to complete this task to the satisfaction that everybody would like so we are trying to meet in the middle and respond accordingly,” said Phelan.

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