Opinion: An Open Letter To School Committee On Delaying A Vote On Proposed Hybrid Learning Option

Photo: Wait on voting for a hybrid model

To Andrea Prestwich, Chair, Belmont School Committee

I understand the Belmont School Committee needs to ratify the Belmont Public School’s remote learning plan in some form or fashion before school starts. Prior to voting, I would urge you and the other members of the committee to address the following aspects of the proposed Remote Learning plan in a clear and concise manner:

1) There has been no clear and precise estimate given by the BPS for the amount and types of family support that will be required for students at different levels to be successful in remote learning, nor has there been any assessment that I am aware of that gauges the degree to which the required and expected levels of support are feasible for families at the outset of this Phase or sustainable for any duration of time.

2)  There has been no clear and compelling rationale that has been offered to explain why start times can’t be later in remote learning. Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan has spoken a few times to the complexities of transportation, but as far as I’m aware there are no transportation issues during Phase 1 and very few parents and caregivers representing less than 500 out of 4,000 students indicated an interest in or reliance on bus transportation when asked. One of your core campaign issues when you originally ran for BSC was for a later start time. If we are ever going to explore and experiment with later start times, which the vast majority of families and students support, this would appear to be the moment. If we are not going to start later, especially at Chenery Middle School, I would expect that the particulars of why we cannot do so would need to be presented to the committee and the public before a vote on the remote schedule.

3) There has been no clear and compelling reason for why lunch schedules can’t be adjusted to accommodate family lunch at the same time both within Chenery and across school levels. Doing so would be the most convenient thing for families and would be best for the social-emotional wellbeing of students and families during Phase 1.

All of these issues relate in some form or fashion to the degree of responsiveness of the BPS and BSC to core concerns of and feedback from Belmont families, especially given the shift in the degree of responsibility for students’ education that families will bear in Phase 1 and all of the proposed phases until full in-person learning resumes.

Regarding the proposed hybrid plan, I strongly oppose and do not understand the idea that we need to rush to a vote next week given that the proposed hybrid plan, which is radically different from all previous models of hybrid learning that have been presented to the BSC and the public, has not been properly vetted by the public nor the BSC and given that hybrid learning is not likely to start in whatever form it takes until October at the earliest. 

To understand this issue more deeply from the perspective of Belmont parents and caregivers, it is useful to review the timeline of the process of exploring hybrid models so far:

  • June 29: of the 900 survey respondents, only 42 percent of respondents indicated support for a hybrid when the idea of the hybrid model was fairly abstract and when families might have conceived of the question as being in distinction to the possibility of a full in-person return to school.
  • July 16: though the total number of survey respondents is not clear from the slide deck from the BSC meeting, only 9 percent of families preferred full remote learning; 91 percent of respondents preferred full in-person learning or hybrid.
  • Aug. 4:  Superintendent Phelan presented 7 hybrid models to the public, all of which have significantly more in-person learning opportunities for students than the current proposed hybrid plan, which offers far fewer in-person options for many fewer students.
  • Aug. 6: the current “Return to Learning” phased plan is reviewed for the first time, marking a sudden and significant reversal in the direction of the public discussion about options for returning to school without a very clear rationale for why we are moving in this direction.
  • Aug. 11: at a BSC presentation representing the perspectives of approximately 3,000 of the 4,000 Belmont Public School students and the last time families were invited to express a point of view about hybrid learning, there was overwhelming support (2,138 of 3,152) for more and more frequent in-person learning opportunities (hybrid + full in-person) than is currently proposed.
  • Sept. 2: the current proposed hybrid models are presented to the public for the first time along with information about the “remote-only” option; the proposed models for students allow for significantly less in-person learning (2-3 mornings a week for most students) than had been previously discussed, not in keeping with expectations of families. In addition, the concept of a “Bridge” phase (“Phase 1.5”) is introduced for the first time to BSC but not voted upon.
  • Sept. 3: a survey is distributed to BPS families to choose between the current proposed hybrid model and the proposed remote model with the expectation that families will choose by Sept. 17 between these two models, neither of which approximates families’ expectations or resembles previous hybrid models under consideration. The survey does not contain a “none of the above” option or an option to indicate support for a different hybrid model if one would be available.  In the meantime, families are asked to articulate questions they have about the proposed models vs. feedback and there is a precipitous drop in family engagement as represented by the steep decline in the number of families who respond to surveys.

I would submit to you and other members of the committee that neither you nor Belmont families have had the opportunity to vet properly the details of the proposed hybrid model such that families would have a basis for making a choice on the one hand and that you would be informed enough about the perspectives of families on the other to vote next week.  Indeed, I would go further and say that, notwithstanding the very real need that the BPS has to engage in staffing projections, families should not have been asked to indicate a “choice” between two models they mostly do not want without further examination by BSC and BPS of whether adjustments can be made to the proposed hybrid model that would be in keeping our recently agreed-upon metrics for each Phase and more aligned with what families want and expect for their children.

Under those circumstances, I urge you to delay a vote of the hybrid model, to encourage BPS leadership to add more in-person learning opportunities whenever we move to Phase 3 and to extend the deadline for families to submit their preference sheets until modifications to the hybrid model can be more fully explored and articulated.  

Jeff Liberty

Worcester Street

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Comments

  1. Betsy Klimasmith says

    Thank you, Jeff, for laying out the timeline of events so clearly and reminding us that, at last count, 91% of families supported in-person learning for Belmont children. I fear that the current models for remote and hybrid learning will be unsustainable for any length of time; the shift in responsibility for BPS students’ learning from schools to families should bring with it more attention to families’ input.
    I strongly support “more and more frequent in-person opportunities” for learning in Belmont and hope that we as a community–schools, teachers, families–can work to make that happen as soon as possible.

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