Letter To The Editor: School Re-Opening Less Than Ideal But Pandemic Limits What Can Be Done

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.

Best,

Mike Crowley

Member, Belmont School Committee

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Comments

  1. Richard Mortimer says

    I appreciate all of the work that the School Committee, Superintendent, and other school administrators have put into the process. I know there are a lot of strong and opposing views, which can make it difficult to arrive at a consensus. Thoughtfulness and consideration of the varied opinions of the community is a strength that I hope the School Committee will maintain.

    That said, I do have substantial reservations about the current proposed hybrid approaches. (My family’s experience with the remote program has been good so far.) I’m the parent of students at Chenery and the high school, and my concerns about the hybrid approach relate to older students. They are:

    (1) The overall amount of instructional time (in-person plus remote) is limited, especially for core subjects,

    (2) It seems difficult and expensive to serve remote-only students well in phase 3

    (3) In person time for hybrid students is limited

    An alternative, more flexible, approach would flip the hybrid approach and devote in-person time to activities that are most difficult to support remotely, such as science labs, arts, clubs, study groups, and athletics. Schools could set up classrooms to support students to work collaboratively on projects or in study groups, for supervised remote learning on core academic subjects, and for in-person office hours on core subjects to help address the challenges of remote learning.

    This approach would allow more in-person/in-school options for students that want them, better serve students that wish to remain remote, and allow for more instructional time and better curriculum coverage of core subjects. It would also allow for greater flexibility in moving between remote and hybrid approaches if needed

  2. A parent of two children says

    I believe strongly that the actions and indecisiveness of the SC and Legacy administration demonstrate that they are unqualified to lead. Sadly, the only way to change anything is by voting the SC out of office and hoping that they fire the Superintendent. Parents don’t have time for that. Mike, we encourage you to take decisive action and stop hiding behind DESE and consultants. Your own engineer said to open the building.

    • Mary L says

      Most of the country was focused on surface transmission and not aerosol transmission in the spring and into the summer. This air quality concern was raised after aerosol transmission began to be discussed seriously by the scientific community.

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