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.


Mike Crowley

Member, Belmont School Committee

Belmont Reopens Tennis, Track, Parks; Playgrounds, BBall Will Have To Wait

Photo: Alan Palm and his son Sawyer in the newly reopened Grove Street Playground.

On a warm Tuesday with willowy clouds overhead, Alan Palm and his son, Sawyer, are on the newly installed walkway that meanders around the Grove Street Playground; Palm père on his skateboard while Palm fils is riding his balance bike.

For the first time since mid-March, Grove Street is back open to the public and the Palms are taking advantage of the return to “normal” in the park.

“I’m very happy that the park is open,” said Palm. “I think we have to find ways to be able to maintain our health and safety.”

What attracts Palms to Grove is the expansive spaces a park provides, “where it’s possible for people to be social distance apart as opposed to just crowding onto the sidewalk. People need to take advantage of that.”

In the most visible examples of a return to normalcy since the sudden closure of many activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, Belmont is reopening several public spaces effective Tuesday, June 2.

The Belmont Select Board voted unanimously at its Monday, June 1 remote meeting to immediately begin a restart of the town’s public parks and athletic fields limited to passive activities such as walking and running, according to Jon Marshall, the assistant town administrator and Recreation Department director. Arrangements are being made with the School Department to allow use of the track around Harris Field.

In addition, the padlocks will be taken off the town’s tennis courts to permit singles action as well as doubles as long as the pairs are from the same household.

“First off, I want to thank all the residents for their patience. I know it hasn’t been an easy time with all the parks being closed,” said Jon Marshall, the assistant town administrator and Recreation Department director who coordinated the openings with other town departments.

The Department of Public Works is working to create and place signs with new rules and what activities are allowed at each site.

While the parks and fields are now open, residents will still be under state and town orders on minimizing human contact.

“We’re still looking at public safety as our main concern and social distancing and face masks are critical at this time,” said Marshall who said people should not congregate at these locations.

Board Chair Roy Epstein said residents should follow the guidelines of putting on a mask when you’re with six feet of a person not in your household, “if you’re off by yourself or can maintain six feet when they’re outdoor, a mask is a good idea but it’s not obligatory.”

But many activities will remain shuttered for the time being. Remaining off limits will be basketball courts due to likely contact between players. The town will not be issuing athletic permits for organized “pick-up” games such as soccer. Playground equipment aimed at young children will remain closed due to the difficulty in sanitizing the apparatus.

Marshall told the board that the Recreation Commission will discuss at its next meeting on June 10 on how and when to open the courts and fields as most of these activities will be allowed under a Phase II Commonwealth’s Re-Opening Plan from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration.

Marshall told the Board his department could reimpose bans if residents do not abide by state and town regulations.

“We want to keep in mind that there’s still a pandemic going on … so we need to be very prudent in terms of the decisions that are made,” said Marshall.