Photo: Return to learning has been less than ideal
Dear Belmont Parents and Community:
As a member of the School Committee, I’m fully aware that many parents are deeply unhappy with the fall reopening plans for our schools. Based on the volume of emails and phone calls, it’s also clear that many people do not think the School Committee is listening. I can assure you that we are.
Many parents want a return to in-person learning as quickly as possible. Rightly, they point to good health metrics and the probability that we could begin using many classrooms in hybrid with safety. Yes, the metrics are good and we probably can begin using many classrooms but it will be a few more weeks before we do that.
I have been a proponent of a quicker move to hybrid reopening for Belmont’s schools. Not everyone agrees on the timetable, and I understand that. It’s not an easy thing to gamble with people’s health, but that’s essentially what we do when we proceed to reopen schools without due caution during a pandemic. Between myself, other members of the School Committee, the Superintendent, and our educators, there are some differences of opinion about what “due caution” means. In every negotiation, there are differences of opinion. When decision making depends on satisfying many different and very reasonable concerns about health and safety, some flexibility is needed. At the end of the day, no one wants to be responsible for opening in a way that leads to anyone getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying.
We’ve just gotten summary feedback from our consulting engineers who have been evaluating our air handling systems in the school buildings. We’ll get the full reports in days. So far things look pretty good, as long as we plan to open windows in our classrooms or use air purification equipment that we’ve bought. But we’ll be proceeding to in-person learning in our school buildings in a deliberate and orderly manner only after the consultant reports have been received, fully digested, and responded to in a way that mitigates any problems with space that needs to be used. It would be unwise to do otherwise. Because the school buildings are not ready, there has been no other option – to be clear, absolutely no other way to proceed – but to begin the school year in remote mode. We’ll get the schools opened for in-person learning, but it just will take a little more time.
Apart from getting back to in-person learning, we are getting lots of feedback about the remote school plan, which has been adopted by the School Committee, as well as the hybrid plan, which is still under discussion. Not everyone is happy with the remote schedules, including school start times, lunch breaks, and time between classes. It is a complicated negotiation to build out these schedules, and not all needs can be satisfied. Similarly, to try to undertake school in a hybrid fashion AND provide remote-only for those parents needing that option for their children necessarily means that there will be more asynchronous learning (e.g., taped lessons, students working on their own, etc.). The school district does not have enough resources to do much better than this.
It is deeply unfortunate that our children will continue to experience school in a less than ideal way this school year. I know that our school administrators and educators – and every member of the School Committee – is deeply regretful for this. We all recognize that this isn’t the way school should be done. But we also know that there are limits to what can be done during a pandemic with the kinds of resources that we have. Everyone, too, is committed to making this the best experience possible for your children.
I know that parents will continue to be concerned about our schools and I hope that you’ll continue to share your concerns with me and other members of the School Committee. At the same time, I hope that we’ll have your patience as we work to change what we can AND your understanding in realizing that there will be limits to what can be done for your children with the resource constraints that our schools operate under.
Member, Belmont School Committee