Photo: Belmont student will be in classrooms after the Spring break. (Credit: Pixabay)
After two months of in-house analysis and some pressure from the state, all Belmont students will be back in school on the final week of April, according to John Phelan, Belmont superintendent of schools.
“We believe that we’re making really, really good progress so we appreciate everyone’s patience [during the pandemic],” said Phelan, at the Tuesday, April 13 Belmont School Committee meeting.
Chenery Middle School students and teachers will return full time on Wednesday, April 28 and those attending Belmont High School will be back in the on Thursday, April 29. Each school will reopen after the two student cohorts at the Chenery and High School are combined in the hybrid schedule.
Those students learning remotely will attend classes via live stream.
Students in Belmont’s four elementary schools have been in classes both in class and remotely since April 5, an experience so far, Phelan said, “students are doing very well, some kinks to work out for sure.”
Currently 83 percent of students district wide have elected to return to in-person learning at the six Belmont schools. Approximately 17 percent will continue to be taught remotely. Elementary students have the greatest in-person attendance at 91 percent while high schoolers are split 70-30 in-class vs remote.
Phelan told the committee that the district has taken “a real close eye on” the level of community transmission of the COVID-19 before moving towards a full return to in-class education.
In announcing the dates for the reopening, Phelan acknowledged the effort of the 32-member Return to In-Person Learning Working Group which over eight meeting since February drafted sets of “rolling” recommendations to the School Committee and District outlining the steps both in terms of public health and navigating logistic concerns that led to the return of full-time classroom education.
The group – made up of educators, students, parents, members of the Board of Health, School Committee and community – included:
“We truly appreciate the role that everybody brought to this work; the feedback, the healthy suggestions, the debate, the disagreement, and there was disagreement in this committee. There were recommendations that folks felt really good about, and there were recommendations that folks struggle with a little bit in these were hard discussions within our subgroups,” said Phelan.
“This was not all smiles in fun. This was work. This was debate, review and reflection. But ultimately we came up with an outcome that that put students in school in the month of April, to some degree ahead of time. So we’re thankful for their work,” said Phelan, who pointed to the leadership of the Working Group’s facilitators, Harvard-based Michelle Rinehart and Dr. Drew Echelson, who provided the analysis and just the hand-holding required to shepherd the group in its mission.
While finished with its initial goal, the work group will reconvene in May to tackle issues such as remote learning, creating contingency plans in the event of another surge and mapping out a seasonal strategy.
“We did do a little bit of reflecting on what this group could do better next time. How this type of work can serve the district well in any other type of challenge or with any other issues that need to be worked out with community support and feedback. So we think we have a pretty good format for future use,” said Phelan.