Air Flow Data ‘Discrepancies’ Sends Belmont Schools Back To Remote Learning

Photo: Descrepancies in an Excel spreadsheet caused Belmont schools to go remote this week

A critical report used to determine the safety of Belmont school buildings to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic was revealed this week to be riddled with miscalculations forcing the School District to shut down in-school hybrid learning for kindergarteners and elementary students and delay the start of the hybrid model for middle and high school students.

According to an email after the Tuesday, Oct. 20 School Committee meeting, Belmont Superintendent John Phelan announced that grades “PreK to 12 will remain home and pivot back to remote learning on Wednesday, Oct. 21 through Friday, Oct 23.”

During the three-day closure, the town’s Facilities Department will be “reallocating and reprogramming” as well as increasing the number of air exchange equipment so rooms will meet the minimum air flow standards set by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to allow learning to safely take place, said Phelan.

Phelan said he will issue a progress report to the community at noon, Friday, Oct. 23. “We do not anticipate this pivot to remote learning will be extended past this week,” said Phelan.

The closure of Belmont schools has delayed the start of hybrid classes at the Chenery Middle School that was scheduled to start on Oct. 22. The start of the hybrid model for Belmont High School has been halted indefinately due to a vote of the School Committee later in the meeting.

Early in the summer when standards were being discussed during the creation of the four phased , air exchange was one of the pillars of the safety protocal – along with community level of COVID-19 infection determined by state data – the district would use to determine when to move from remote learning to hybrid and finally in-class instruction.

Initial airflow data collected and calculated in September by Bala Consulting Engineers – hired this summer to inform the Belmont School District on the air exchange rate in the district’s six school buildings – found that the majority of rooms had passed the standards set by the Chan School and guidelines from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Steven Dorrance, director of facilities in Belmont, said Bala was hired by Belmont “on a rather urgent basis” in August when they were asked to produce air exchange assessments “under a very, very short time frame.”

An explanation of air exchange rate and how to calculate it from the Harvard T. H. Chan School can be found here.

With preliminary data in hand “which we believed in good faith was representative, accurate and through,” the decision was made to move forward in placing students in classrooms which were equiped with “wonderful air purification technology.”

But when a more detailed data report was released this week and reveiwed by school principals and the town, “we had some surprises,” said Dorrance, noting “discrepancies” between the first and second groups of figures.

Keith Parta, the mechanical department manager in Bala’s Boston office, acknowledged there were differences between the two data sets. Digging deeper into the numbers, Parta discovered there was a “cell problem in the Excel” referring to the Microsoft spreadsheet software, “and it was entirely on us.”

While calculating the air exchange rate is fairly easy to do – there are online air change calculators – Parta said the error resulted during the process of “layering in additional mitigation strategies” into the data cells. Those mitigation actions included changes to the air flow rate by, for example, opening a window three inches. This required introducing a multiplier to the data cell to calculate the new rate.

“I don’t believe we got the multiplier correct for the windows,” said Parta. With layers of incorrect mitigation data, the calculation for the number of fan filters required for each room to generate the correct air flow was flawed.

“It’s very easy for even a seasoned veteran to … look at [a spreadsheet] and say ‘hey, this data set looks consistant but upon further review you have to say to yourself with that inner voice … something is wrong here,” said Parta.

The error likely occurred during what Parta called his firm’s “mad dash” as it was conducting testing at 62 school districts during August. Just in analyzing the Belmont district, “there are hundreds if not thousands of cells” that need to be inputed.

In addition, Parta said a “major misstep” was what he discribed as neglecting to perform a “scrub” in which Bala and the town would review seperately the results before meeting for a combined appraisal of the data.

Saying that he has made a 1,000 mistakes in his lifetime, “the more important thing is that we catch [the mistake], we fix it and we move on because that is the only way we can proceed,” Parta said.

The result of the new data is “there are some rooms that clearly have to come offline because we really don’t have any incoming or free air to work with,” said Dorrance, with other rooms that will need to be “flagged” such as “tiny” interior rooms with just one door to obtain pass through air.

Andrea Prestwich, the school committee’s chair, noted that those newly identified rooms are not classrooms or spaces that children are taught.

Because there continues to be “some concerns about the report” the third district-wide analysis will be conducted over the three day shut down. Parta said there should be only minor improvements with the third reports over that of the second. Dorrance said the town’s confidence level in the coming “final” report will be at “110 percent” when it is released in a subsequant meeting.

“As we move through this process to continue to provide a safe environment for all students and staff, we thank you for patience for this unexpected schedule change. We understand the impact these changes have on families, work schedules, and childcare, and we regret the inconvenience,” said Phelan.

Town Adminstrator Re-Ups ‘Til 2024 With New Contract

Photo: Patrice Garvin

With enthusiastic backing from the Bemont Select Board, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin will be sticking around Town Hall for a few more years.

The town’s chief administrative officer was offered a new three-year contract commencing Jan. 15, 2021 at the Select Board’s Monday, Oct. 19 meeting. The agreement came after a month-long review process and negotiations during which the Chelmsford resident received praise for her resourcefulness, work ethic, and organizational skills from the three-member board.

“You could not put more effort into this job and I think she is as conscientious and as smart as they come doing this type of work,” said Board Chair Roy Epstein.

Garvin was sworn in as Belmont’s first female town administrator in Jan. 16, 2018 after a long search to find a replacement for David Kale, who served for four years.

Under the new contract, Garvins’s base pay will increase from her current $181,778.69 to $190,500 on July 1, 2021. Garvin will receive annual increases of a minimum two percent or the general pay increase for department heads, which ever is greatest.

In addition, board will hold annual performance reviews on May 1 wih possible merit increases to the base salary. As part of the performance review, Garvin and the Select Board will define the goals for the next fiscal year that they determine necessary for the Town, and the Board shall further establish a relative priority among those goals.

In her benefits package, Garvin will see her annual vacation leave increase from four to five weeks and she’ll have the standard 12 holidays including a “floating holiday” with pay to be used at any time during the calendar year. And effective July 1, 2021, the Garvin will be allowed to sell back to the town each year a maximum of 80 hours of vacation time. The town will make a $625 per month car allowance, which will be taxable.

District Introducing Streaming For Remote Hybrid Students At Chenery/High School

Photo: Live streaming is coming to Belmont schools

It’s been something that parents and educators have been talking about since last March and its about to happen – live streaming of classes at Belmont public schools.

In an email to the community on Monday, Oct. 19, John Phelan, Bemont district superintendent, announced the development of a “virtual participation model” through a partnership between the adminstration and educators.

The model, to be used by students who selected “remote-only” as their hybrid alternative at both the Chenery Middle and Belmont High schools, will allow students to attend classes with their cohort peers “via live streaming.”

The new model will allow students to stay with their current teachers and present minimal changes in schedules, while providing the district “the most flexible and least disruptive option for if and when one of our schools or school district need to change back to full remote.”

The system can also be used for any student in K-12 who is at home due to a quarantine situation from COVID.

Given this new information, if parents and students would like to change your decision of hybrid to remote-only, contact the following educators by 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21

After Wednesday, changes can only occur at the end of a term.

“We want to thank our educators and school leadership for all the work in planning the remote and hybrid models with the students’ academic and social emotional wellbeing at the core of all decisions,” said Phelan.

“We will continue to meet with our educators to get their feedback, as well as ask the community for feedback, as we all experience these models moving forward,” he said.

In an effort to again provide information to the Belmont community on the hybrid models, please see the presentation of the CMS and BHS models to the School Committee on Sept. 29, and the hybrid pros and cons for all models presented at the Sept. 15 meeting.

‘Stop!’ Parents Group Push School Committee To Halt High School Hybrid Model


A group of parents of Belmont High School students is trying to slam the brakes on the transition from remote to hybrid learning just two days before it is to occur.

The hastedly assembled group will present the results of a survey they created to the Belmont School Committee at its Tuesday, Oct. 20 meeting showing overwhelming opposition to the committee’s vote last week to move high school students into a hybrid instructional model.

In a statement that is accompanying the survey, the group – self described as “Concerned Parents” – says the upshot of the results is ‘[t]he community, that elected you to represent their interests, has spoken loud and clear – stop the move to this model of hybrid for our High School students.”

“We are providing you with the voice of the community who wants to work together to help pave a path forward. We are asking the school administration to take this feedback into serious consideration and reshape their approach,” the parents group stated.

The group’s objective is for the school committee to nullify its earlier vote and return students to the current remote model while creating an ad hoc partnership of parents and the district administration to return back to square one and reconstruct the hybrid model from scratch in the matter of weeks.

“Our goal is to provide insights and ideas to work with the school committee and the administration on paving a path forward, together with the community. We want to make this work and support our students, teachers and school administrators in this unprecedented time,” says the parent’s statement.

The statement’s signatories include Charlie Conroy, Wendy Conroy, Heather Barr, Christa Bauge, Rachel Bruno, David Palmer, Heather Rubeski and Clare Crawford.

The numbers from polls speak volumes, according to the parents: 88 percent of more than 600 respondants do not support the proposed hybrid model for the High School, and a near equal 87 percent are asking the School Committee to nullify their earlier vote and return to a remote model.

Part of the survey has also been dedicated to the views of students which the group contends is a “critical component that has been missing from this discussion so far.” More than 35 percent of survey respondents “overwhelmingly reject this model of [h]ybrid also,” reads the statement.

The parents group is laying forth two “requests” before the six member School Committee and the district administration:

  • Present the survey results to the School Committee on Tuesday [Oct. 20], “so the voice of the community, including the students at BHS, can be heard and be part of the public record.”
  • The School Committee will acknowledge the results at its Oct. 20 meeting and in a formal vote succeed to the group’s belief that “at this time, it is necessary to pause the transition to Hybrid until a better plan can be determined.”

The School Committee voted 5-1, to begin the hybrid instruction model on Thursday, Oct. 22. During the discussion before the vote, nearly all the members agreed that the approved hybrid plan was lacking in student instructional time.

Yet the committee members acknowledged at the Oct. 13 meeting there is an insufficiant number of personnel and staff needed to revamp or rebuild a new hybrid plan in the next few weeks. In addition, the district faces pressure from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to begin in-school learning.

Rather than start over, Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan suggested the high school continues into the hybrid while collecting feedback and suggestions from educators, students and parents. That information would then be the foundation for alterations to the plan after the completion of the first two terms of the school year early in the new year.

The parents group also started its own communications with DESE officials to reaffirm long-standing department policy that while the state can “strongly recommends the implementation of an in-person model of instruction” a move from remote to hybrid models “is ultimately a local decision.”

“Given there is no mandate to move to a hybrid model, the fact that DESE has highlighted that our local school committee has the authority to make this choice, and the fact that our survey shows there is not community support for a transition to the proposed Belmont High School hybrid model, we are highlighting that the school committee has the authority, responsibility and community support to stop this move now,” said the group.

The school committee should act quickly and decisively in this regard and stop the transition to Hybrid for the High school that is scheduled for October 22nd. We have collected valuable community comments about what is expected in a Hybrid mode for the High School.

Want To Vote Nov. 3 In Belmont? Here’s What To Do

Photo: Ellen Cushman, Belmont Town Clerk, at the town’s drop box for voting.

The presidential election 2020 is just two weeks away but there is still time for residents to register and actually cast your vote, according to Belmont Town Clerk Ellen O’Brien Cushman.

Voter Registration Deadline is Oct. 24

The deadline to register to vote and qualify to vote Nov. 3 is fast approaching. If you would like to register and have a Massachusetts Driver’s license or State-issued ID, you can register online at Alternatively, a mail-in voter registration application can be downloaded from the State’s website: 

In– Person Early Voting Dates and Times

In-Person Early Voting Statewide will be available from Saturday, Oct. 17 through Friday, Oct. 30. In Belmont, all In-Person Early Voting will take place at Town Hall. Belmont’s In-Person Early Voting hours can be found here.

Vote By Mail Early/Absentee Ballots

The deadline to submit your Vote by Mail application is Wednesday, Oct. 28. More than 10,000 Vote By Mail Ballot requests have been fulfilled. 

We encourage those voters who have received their Vote by Mail Early/Absentee ballots to vote them as soon as the voter has made their choices and return the ballot immediately.  Your returned voted ballots will be secured in our vaults and included in the Election Day results.   

Voters can watch the status of their ballot request and returned ballot at ; it can take up to three days to be recorded.

Vote by Mail Early/Absentee ballots may be returned to

  • the Town Clerk by mail to 455 Concord Avenue, Belmont, MA 02478 or
  • In the Town Clerk’s drop box located at the base of the steps to Town Hall on the left side of the driveway.  

The Town Clerk is the only one with a key to the drop box. Ballots placed in the drop box are treated the same way as Early Voting ballots cast in person.  

If you requested and received a Vote by Mail Early/Absentee ballot and want it to count, it must be returned to the Town Clerk drop box at Town Hall by 8 p.m. Nov. 3. Ballots that are mailed must be postmarked in the US by 8 p.m., Nov. 3 and received by the Town Clerk no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6. Ballots mailed outside the US must arrive by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13. Ballots cannot be delivered to your voting precinct. The US Post Office recommends mailing all ballots by Oct. 27.

Where to Obtain Applications to Register to Vote or Vote by Mail

All applications mentioned above can be found at the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Elections portal,. Print, complete and sign and drop the signed form in the Town Clerk Drop Box at the base of the Town Hall steps on the left side of the driveway.  There is also a small box on top of the Town Clerk Drop Box that contains paper voter registration forms and Vote By Mail Applications.

‘Backed Into A Corner’: Reluctant School Committee OKs High School Hybrid Plan

Photo: Belmont High School

Saying they felt “backed into a corner,” the Belmont School Committee voted “reluctantly” for students at Belmont High School to enter into the approved hybrid learning phase.

The proposal which passed 5-1 with Evelyn Gomez voting no, will become operational on Thursday, Oct. 22.

“I just don’t think for high school that the hybrid model of this type is the way we should be going and I’m very, very reluctant to support it,” said Andrea Prestwich, school committee chair who led the effort to seek changes to the hybrid plan that would increase instructional time.

Under the current plan, teaching time for each student will decrease from 180 minutes in the current remote learning phase to 95 minutes in hybrid with 55 minutes in class, limiting educators to teaching the most significant areas of a subject – how to propose and defend an argument and not the proper usage of commas and articles – and leaving high schoolers in AP courses to seek classes outside the school to prepare for the important tests.

But Prestwich acknowledged while the proposed schedule created by High School Principal Isaac Taylor is “the wrong hybrid and the wrong time” and it may be advantageous to stay in the remote system, “we don’t have that choice, in fact.” In September, the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education singling out Belmont along with other districts that were considered “safe” to do so to place students in classrooms.

Several members also noted that Belmont is hampered in making quick changes to the model as it doesn’t have the resources in teaching personnel or staffing to set aside for such a project.

Saying she had received “many, many emails from people who have said, ‘How come Belmont can’t do it when Weston is doing this and Lexington is doing this,” Committee member Tara Donner commented that “I think its good to mention again that our amount of staffing compared to our student body” is far less than other communities. For example, Weston has a student/teacher ratio of 11.3 to 1, while Belmont stands at 16.5 to 1.

“I don’t think we have the staff capacity to start from scratch at this point,” said Donner. “I wish we did, I want to do it differently,” she said but the time for students to have “some kind of in person relationship established with teacher” for this school year is closing, so reiterating Prestwich’s statement, “I basically feel backed into a corner about it.”

While agreeing with the committee’s sentiment, School Superintendent John Phelan said it wasn’t feasible to attempt the changes suggested by the committee and many parents of high school students with the hybrid plan having just been implemented.

Phelan acknowledged that all districts statewide are “trying to maximize the instructional value” in their hybrid systems, he suggested the hybrid phase in Belmont continue as voted through the winter holiday break and into the New Year.

“The deserve to be implemented for a few weeks to a month to get a good handle on what’s work and what’s not … and really rehash where we are and make improvements where we can especially after the winter break and into terms three and four,” said Phelan.

“I honestly feel that when we give our educators a chance to be in a model for a period of time that the feed back we can recieve from family and students and from fellow educators, that creative idea will come from that,” said Phelan.

Student representative senior Alex Fick conducted a survey of the students and discovered that while 50 percent of his classmates would approve moving to a hybrid model in general, two-thirds would say “no” to the current hybrid system.

“They don’t think this hybrid model will suit our needs,” said Fick, who noted comments to the survey revealed that “remote is working well for students … and we should try to develop it more rather than ruining to a hybrid which seem to provide risk with no real benefit as we are losing instructional time.”

Committee member Kate Bowen felt that the approved hybrid system is “something to build on” as it’s like “any creative process and its difficult to go through it … “but I do think it’s important for student to meet their teachers in person to be in the building.”

As for those who worry on the reduction of teaching time, “take a little breather there and consider that those minutes may have a greater value than you can anticipate right now,” said Bowen, noting that a decade from now students will be surprised what they learned during this time and not “the precise minutes you spent in any one class.”

Gomez said if the committee is committed to building on something, it would make more sense to make those improvements while students remain in the remote phase “before we ask people to switch.”

And after hearing from Fick, Gomez believed the model was beyond repair “and I hate saying” that it made more sense to start over.

Member Amy Checkoway said she would also support making significant changes to the hybrid plan if it could be done within at most 10 days “but I don’t believe it’s possible.”

“I feel comfortable with moving forward because I think there’s some real mental health issues I know happening in some households with students that we haven’t probably talked about enough,” she said.

Yet in voting to support the move from remote to hybrid, Prestwich continued to advocate for major changes to the hybrid plan sayiing her vote was based on “an effort over the next couple of weeks to figure out how to increase the instructional time within the model.

“I don’t mean January, I don’t mean December. I mean the next couple of weeks. We need to look at every single way possible, to increase the instructional time within the context of that of the model,” she said, which could include streaming classes on line, hiring more teachers “so that we can move the curriculum along much more efficiently than in the current model.”

The final motion read “Moved, that the school committee approves the current plan to move the high school to hybrid by Oct. 22 provided that efforts are made to impove with a model, especially wih regard to instructional time, going forward.”

Third COVID Case In Belmont Schools As A Chenery Staff/Student Tests Positive

Photo: Chenery Middle School

A Chenery Middle School community member – either a student or staff – has tested positive with the coronavirus, according an email from Belmont School District Superintendent John Phelan.

The Belmont Health Department sent the district confirmation on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 11:45 a.m. This is the third person who either attended or worked in Belmont schools to come down with the COVID-19 virus in the past three weeks. Just last Friday, a positive case was reported at Belmont High School. In late September the first case in Belmont was reported at the Winn Brook Elementary School.

Unlike the earlier incidents, the person was present at school and in close contact with others during their infectious period which is two days prior to becoming symptomatic or, if asymptomatic, two days prior to testing, up until the time the student/staff/teacher is isolated.

Individuals who were in close contact with the community member have been notified privately and should be tested, said Phelan. Regardless of test results, those who were in close contact must self-quarantine for 14 days after the last exposure to the person who tested positive.

To further prevent transmission of the virus to other staff and students, the district has sanitized the school with a focus on the areas frequented by the community member that tested positive.

“Although we cannot provide specific information about our school community member who tested positive, please continue to monitor your child for symptoms, and keep your child home if he/she/they shows any symptoms or is not feeling well,” said Phelan.

Letter To The Editor: Belmont Educators Disagree With Return To In-Person Learning


To the editor:

The members of the Belmont Education Association have spent the past six months balancing the needs of our students- their health and safety needs, their academic needs and their social and emotional needs- against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic

On Oct. 7, the BEA was  made aware of numerous inconsistencies, errors, and omissions in the report completed by BALA, the contractor hired by the school district to assess air exchanges in school buildings.  

Based on the failings of the report, the BEA adamantly disagrees with the district’s decision to enter Phase 2, and educators feel obligated to share our concerns with parents.

BALA’s direct measurements show that most classrooms do not have sufficient air exchange (ACH 5) in line with the Harvard University recommended standard that Belmont would need to meet. Assumptions that open windows and air purifiers could raise classroom air exchange to an acceptable level may, in the end, prove correct. However, BALA’s current report has numerous instances which call into question the validity of the report. For example, multiple interior rooms, which have no windows are listed as having substantial improvements once windows are taken into account. 

Furthermore, there are spaces across the district where no data has been provided at all and are omitted from the report and there are other spaces that are mislabeled. The district is working to rectify this situation, and BALA returned to Belmont this week to reassess spaces to make corrections to their report.

Our community made a commitment not to send students into the buildings until spaces used by students and staff were safe. On Wednesday, the BEA requested that the district delay the start of Phase 2 until the community has  a complete report. The Belmont Public Schools  made the determination that schools were safe and began Phase 2 on Thursday. The short notice and concern for the social-emotional well-being of our students forced us to make a difficult decision to return to our classrooms without assurances that they are safe.

John Sullivan

President, Belmont Education Association

Craft Beer Cellar Move To New, Larger Home Set For End Of October

Photo: Kate Baker (left) and Suzanne Schalow inspect the soon to be completed new Craft Beer Cellar store in the formers Macys site.

The date is set for Craft Beer Cellar to move into its new home.

“We’re excited to share that we will be opening in our new space at 87 Leonard St. on Wednesday, Oct. 28!” “just a short walk” from its original location at 51 Leonard St., twitted the owners Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow.

The new 4,500 sq.-ft. store is at the site formerly occupied by Foodies and before that Macys at the corner of Leonard and Alexander Avenue.

To make this move possible, the current store’s last day of business will be Sunday, Oct. 25.

“Thank you all for your continued support!” they wrote.

The flagship store of the national franchise opened in November 2012.

Kate and Schalow are also working to open a new eatery/pub business named Trinktisch at the same location.

“Trinktisch@trinktisch A new neighborhood drinking table coming soon to Belmont Center. Brought to you by the team behind @cbc_belmont and @craftbeercellar” read the tweet.

Positive COVID-19 Case At Belmont High, Second In District Since September

Photo: Belmont High School

The Belmont Health Department reported on Friday, Oct. 9 that a Belmont High School community member – either a student or a staff member – has been diagnosed with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Friday’s notice is the second positive individual in the district, joining a Winn Brook Elementary School community member who was diagnosed on Sept. 28.

In an email message sent to the community by Belmont Superintendent John Phelan, Belmont Public School’s director of nursing Beth Rumley, RN, determined that the positive school community member was not present at school during their infectious period. The infectious period used for determining close contacts for COVID-19 is two days prior to becoming symptomatic or, if asymptomatic, two days prior to testing, up until the time the student/staff/teacher is isolated. 

Therefore, no close contacts were identified among the school community in this situation. 

Phelan said the district is taking the following steps:

  • The Health Department and Nursing Director Rumley immediately began case investigations.
  • The district has been planning for this scenario during the reopening planning process and have a comprehensive plan in place.  All of those protocols have been implemented.
  • The student body and staff have been closely adhering to the safety protocols, including mask wearing, hand washing, and physical distancing. 

“We are grateful to our families for their continued efforts to keep students at home at the first sign of symptoms. These measures, taken in combination, greatly reduce the risk of additional transmission,” said Phelan.