Letter To The Editor: Civil Rights Groups Call For Transparency Investigating Racist Incident

Photo: Recent protest in Cushing Square (Credit: COS New England Facebook page)

Dear Belmont Police Department, Belmont Public Schools, and the larger Belmont community:

We are writing to express our disgust with the hate filled and racist graffiti found on the Wellington School Building this past Monday. This is unacceptable. We stand, in solidarity, with our Belmont and Boston students and families of color.

We must not and will not tolerate racism in any form or manner. The severity of the incident should be acknowledged and there should be follow through with students and families, alike.

We thank Belmont Superintendent John Phelan for bringing this to our attention as quickly as he did and we thank Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac for keeping the community informed of the ongoing investigation.  

We ask that the investigation of this hateful incident be swift, thorough, and transparent. We ask that any conversations with students, particularly of color, regarding this incident be thoughtful and transparent. We are here to be a support for our Belmont and Boston students, families, and educators. This is a community issue which is why we are asking for transparency.

For our students and community to heal, you all must be incredibly thoughtful in the manner in which the investigation is handled and how the information is disseminated. We would like to be included, along with community members, in the communications to students and families. We would like to receive updates on the investigation. 

The common theme is transparency.

ALL of our children should feel safe and welcomed in their environment. This incident proves that there are individuals in the Belmont community who continue to try and foster a climate of fear and intimidation. We, as a community, need to be vigilant in our fight against racism. Belmont schools are part of a greater community and we should all be informed when incidents like this happen. If it affects one, it affects all.

We look forward to receiving updates and working closely with you all.

In solidarity,

Community Organized for Solidarity (COS)

Black and Brown Families in Belmont (BBF)

Belmont Pan-Asian Coalition (BPAC) 

Belmont Antiracism Discussion Group (BADG) 

As District Works Towards Full-Time In-School For K-4; Phelan Commits To ‘Fully In-Person Start’ Of ’21 School Year

Photo: The Belmont School District is working to bring K-4 students back to full-time in-the-classroom instruction by April

Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan reiterated his stance from last week that the district is actively working to derive a program to safely send elementary school students back to the classroom full time in April, according to a press release dated Thursday, March 4.

Rather than add in-person hours to the existing hybrid plan for those attending Belmont’s four elementary schools, “we are now developing a plan for a full, in-person option for K-4 students,” said Phelan.

Phelan also used the release to acknowledge the strain the pandemic has had on residents and students for the past year and his personal pledge to “a strong fully in-person start of the school year in September 2021.”

“I am committed to finishing this school year better than we started. I am committed to returning students back to school as safely and quickly as possible starting with our youngest learners at the elementary schools,” he said. “I will be working tirelessly, along with the entire Belmont Public School community, to deliver on these commitments.”

As he stated in his release of Feb. 26, Phelan said the district has shifted its focus following the announcement by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley who said on Feb. 23 that he will ask state permission to yank the hybrid option for the state’s youngest students.

In response, the district’s Return to In-Person Learning Working Group – the nearly 30 member group created last month to manage the transition to full-time in-school learning – had shifted its focus to now “building recommendations in subgroups which focused on physical distancing and classroom capacity, lunch and snack, specials and specialized instruction, remote-only options, and transportation,” said Phelan.

Monday, March 8: Working Group meeting and possible recommendations
Tuesday, March 9: Recommendations presented to at School Committee Meeting
Thursday, March 11: Q&A session with school administrators
Friday, March 12: Survey to all K-4 parents asking for remote/in-person choice
Wednesday, March 17: Survey due by 5 p.m.

And as Phelan promised when the group was formed, the working group has begun making “rolling recommendations” to the district on meeting his new goal. After its meeting on Monday, March 1, Phelan along with school principals and central office staff have begun reviewing emerging recommendations focusing on creating guidelines for social distancing in classrooms and non-learning spaces in the four elementary schools.

One of the leading constraints identified last summer hampering a return to full-time in-school learning throughout the district has been the lack of physical learning space required for 100 percent student participation with a required six-foot separation between students.

In addition to social distancing, the working group has also focused on addressing concerns related to the remote-only experience for those students and families that select to remain remote for the rest of the year, and taking stock of current PPE equipment, and make any recommendations so the schools are ready for a return to increased in-person learning.

The Working Group will meet again on Monday, March 8, and could issue recommendations at that time. If there are proposals from the Group, they will be made public at the School Committee the next day, March 9.

In an attempt to have families fully briefed on each learning option – in-person or remote – Phelan said the district will hold a Q&A session with school administrators on Thursday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. 

The district will send a survey to parents on Friday, March 12, on whether they would like to choose the remote or in-person option for their child.  The survey will be due Wednesday, March 17 and this selection will be binding for the remainder of the school year.

After the Working Group has completed its K-4 recommendations, it will then move into discussions of how to increase in-person learning at the middle and high schools. Initially, the Working Group will start with grade 5 by leveraging their recommendations from the K-4 given the self-contained grade 5 model which is more similar to our elementary schools.

On a personal note, Phelan said he was well aware of the considerable hardship the school community – students, staff, parents – has taken on since the pandemic halted in-school learning in March 2020.

“I want to recognize that this has been a difficult year for students, as well as for parents and families. It has also been the most significant challenge our educators have ever faced. There are no easy answers as we battle COVID-19,” said Phelan.

“I appreciate and acknowledge that change can be disruptive and that these plans will be met with happiness by some and concern by others. I look forward to working together to deliver on three big commitments: finish the year better than we started; return more students to in-person learning this spring, and focus on a full in-person start to the year in the fall.”

“I … want to thank the families of Belmont for the grace they have shown–and continue to show–as we work through this devastating public health crisis,” said Phelan.

COVID Update: Positive Cases in Belmont Nearing 1,000

Photo: Update on COVID-19 in Belmont

Belmont is closing in on a stark milestone of 1,000 COVID-19 cases, according to data from the state’s Department of Public Health.

As of Jan. 29, 914 confirmed COVID cases among Belmont residents have been reported, an increase of 64 cases since Jan. 22.

Due to the new case count over the past two weeks, Belmont remains in the state’s Yellow zone, according to the new color designation metrics in which there are 10 average cases for 100,000 residents or less than five percent positivity over two weeks. Currently, Belmont has a positivity rate of 3.01 percent.

In the school subset, a dozen people – including students and staff – were tested positive with the coronavirus over the past week. Those include nine at Belmont High School, five at Chenery Middle and four at the Wellington. The total positive cases associated with Belmont schools now reads 115.

After examining year end death certificates in the beginning of January , there have been a total of 74 COVID-19 related deaths in Belmont, confirmed by that data filed with the Town Clerk’s Office. 

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) continues to provide weekly reports on Thursday of COVID-19 data by city or town as part of its Dashboard for COVID-19 Cases, Quarantine and Monitoring

Hybrid Learning Returns To Belmont Grades K-8 On Monday; HS Enters Hybrid Thursday, Dec. 10

Photo: A hybrid schedule at Belmont schools

It’s hybrid week at the Belmont Public Schools as the entire student population will be either returning to or begin for the first time hybrid in-person learning schedules.

In an email to the community from John Phelan, superintendent for Belmont schools, grades K-8 will resume their hybrid schedule on Monday, Dec. 7, while “we are happy to report Belmont High School students, grades 9 to 12 will start -person hybrid on Thursday, Dec. 10.”

The schedule for the Belmont High School hybrid schedule can be found here.

Phelan noted that principals from each of the six public schools will have sent out a communication to parents of children with more details on returning to the classroom.

“We appreciate the patience of our students, parents, faculty, and staff in pivoting to remote learning after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,” said Phelan.

“We feel these proactive measures help keep the school community safe and give us a chance to assess and ‘reset’ the buildings for a healthy return to hybrid in-person learning,” he said.

Phelan said the district’s goal is to proactively and strategically pivot the instructional model for elementary, middle, and high schools when needed during the current pandemic environment while trying to limit disruptions to teaching and learning.

Breaking: Belmont Schools Return To Remote Learning For The Week After Thanksgiving

Photo: Belmont School District headquarters on Pleasant Street.

Saying the Belmont School District was “making a decision regarding the safety of students, educators, and families,” Belmont Schools Superintendent John Phelan announced that all Belmont students will transition to the remote schedule for the week following Thanksgiving, Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.

“It is not a decision we take lightly,” said Phelan. “While we wish we did not have to make a decision, we are confident it is the safest choice during this time of increasing transmission rates, nationally, state-wide, and locally.”

Elementary and Middle School pupils will revert back to the remote plan from their current hybrid schedule and the introduction of the hybrid model for Belmont High School students scheduled for this week will be delayed.

Pre-K and LABBB will remain in-person for the week. Transportation for those programs will continue as regularly scheduled.

In an email to the Belmont community, Phelan noted the decision was based on six factors relating to the safety of students, educators and families.

“The decision for any school district cannot hinge on a single factor, but rather on a consideration of all factors taken together,” said Phelan.

Those factors include:

  1. Communication with families regarding their travel and hosting plans.
  2. Analyzing our staffing data to get a sense of educators’ travel and hosting plans.
  3. Coordinating with available substitutes.
  4. Seeking the advice of the Belmont Health Department
  5. Networking with other superintendents in the Middlesex League athletic league
  6. Discussing this topic publicly at our Nov. 24 School Committee meeting

“It is our hope that by being proactive and strategic in the short-term we will avoid difficulty in the long-term,” said Phelan.

‘Parenting in the Time of Coronavirus’: A Webinar With Belmont Schools And McLean Hospital

Photo: A screenshot from the webinar “Surviving Quarantine with you Kids”

As part of a partnership with Belmont Public Schools, the McLean Hospital School Consultation team has recorded two webinars focusing on helping parents navigate challenging COVID-19 circumstances. 

The first video is geared toward parents of elementary school-aged children and the second is geared toward parents of middle and high school-aged teens. The videos have some overlapping content, although the examples provided are age-specific.

Each video is followed by a pre-recorded Q and A that includes answers to the questions Belmont parents submitted. 

Parent Webinar: Surviving Quarantine with your Kids 

  • Child and adult emotional reactions to COVID-19
  • How to provide validating responses to children
  • Managing challenging behavior at home
  • Skills for managing difficult emotions
  • Q&A
Surviving Quarantine with your Kids Webinar

Parent Webinar: Surviving Quarantine with your Teen

  • Teen and adult emotional reactions to COVID-19
  • How to provide validating responses to children
  • Tips for boosting mood and resilience
  • Skills for managing difficult emotions
  • Q&A
Surviving Quarantine with your Teen Webinar

Speakers: Dr. Julia Martin Burch and Dr. Michelle Silverman

Dr. Martin Burch and Dr. Silverman, child psychologists at the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program and the McLean School Consultation Service, present on the topic of managing mental health during the COVID-19 epidemic. The speakers share concrete strategies for supporting your children and yourself in tough moments. Specific topics include: what is a normal response to this type of event, how to maintain compassion for ourselves and our kids during challenging moments, skills to manage intense emotions, tips on keeping active to combat depression, and ways to manage children’s behavior at home during quarantine.

Belmont District Closed For Remainder of School Year; Superintendent: Answers To Questions Coming ASAP

Photo: Belmont School Administration Building

Belmont’s approximately 5,000 public school students will be finishing the 2019-2020 school year learning from home as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Tuesday, April 21, that school buildings will be closed for the remainder of the school year and remote learning will continue for the remainder of the academic calendar.

In his press conference, Baker said the state was very much in the grips of a pandemic and “[w]e believe students, therefore, cannot safely return to school and avoid the risk of transmitting this virus to others.”

“It’s the right thing to do, considering the facts on the ground associated with the COVID 19 pandemic,” he said.

Responding to Baker’s remarks, Belmont School District Superintendent John Phelan said: “Given this new information and updated status, the district will continue our remote learning plan as we continue to learn the strengths and growth areas in our current program.”

“The extension of the school closure will come with many questions, and we will continue to work collaboratively with our educators and School Committee to provide you with those answers as soon as possible,” said Phelan.

Belmont School’s Remote Learning To Begin This Week, Lasting Until May 4

Photo: A photo of Belmont Superintendent John Phelan via the internet.

Assignments, reading and a “regular” school day.

Those are the highlights of the new way of education as Belmont School District begins this week “Phase 2 Remote Learning” for the nearly 5,000 students enrolled in the town’s public schools.

The change to learning through the internet and email, which will run until May 4, is another way the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has fundamentally altered the norm.

In an email dated March 30 to the community, John Phelan, Belmont district superintendent, provided a timeline for the next month detailing the approach Phelan and the district leadership team, made up of principals, teachers and directors, are taking in creating an off-campus curriculum for K-12 following the guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The “Phase 2” will emphasize “reinforcing skills, curriculum advancement, and new and meaningful learning opportunities [in] remote learning,” wrote Phelan.

The timeline for Phase 2 is:

  • On Tuesday, March 31, Belmont’s six school principals will hold faculty meetings to outline the framework of Phase 2 Remote Learning.
  • Those specific details will be emailed by the principals to families on Tuesday, March 31 following the faculty meetings.
  • Principals will set times for staff to access their school and classrooms to gather needed materials during the remainder of the week.
  • Educators will spend time working to review, plan, and prepare for this work with the goal of contacting students and families starting this week and no later than Monday, April 6.
  • The enrichment and re-teaching work “Phase 1” provided students and families for this week should remain in place unless your students/teacher(s) are prepared to move forward with the Phase 2 plan.

The timeline for Phase 2 will be in effect at least until May 4.

Unlike Phase 1 which was student-led reteaching and enrichment of what was learned during the school year, Phase 2 will be teacher-directed with pupils will be expected to spend at least three hours a day working on the reinforcing skills and new and meaningful remote learning opportunities.

Under Phase 2, students in 5th to 12th grade will:

  • Complete and submit work within a set deadline.
  • Open and address daily morning emails from educators.
  • Read for an hour a day.

Younger students, from K-4, will:

  • Engage in daily activities that their families will receive daily via email.
  • Read for a half-hour a day.

Teachers will be tasked with doing what they have been previously, just doing it through the internet. Those tasks include being an instructor and facilitator, collecting and grading assignments, creating resources for students, and even hold “office hours” to allow for a more personal “human touch.”

For more about Phase 2, head to the Belmont Public School link.

Phelan also apologized for the delay in communicating how the remote learning process was being developed and implemented.

“I take responsibility for the role of communicating the hard work we have engaged in over the last week, in order to provide a more direct form of Remote Learning in Belmont,” he said.

Moving forward, Phelan said the district is meeting the challenge the community is facing.

“The community of Belmont has always been a great supporter of public schools. This support has always been valued and appreciated by the faculty and staff in Belmont. Please know that your teachers, directors, and principals have been working hard and will continue to do so on behalf of their students,” said Phelan.

School Precaution: Staffer Who Self-Quarantined Back To Work, Trips Cancelled, And Disinfecting Schools

Photo: Belmont Public School Administration Building.

The byword for the Belmont School District on the expanding coronavirus epidemic is caution.

A female staffer who self-quarantined on Wednesday after returning from a conference in Italy over February break will return to work on Monday, March 9, according to an email from the Belmont School District.

Italy has by far the most cases of the coronavirus in Europe with nearly 4,000 cases and 148 deaths as of Friday, March 6.

Belmont School District Superintendent John Phelan said the staff member, who works at the Chenery Middle School and Belmont High School, placed herself in seclusion on March 4 after the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its guidance that day asking people to self-quarantine if they have travelled to China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea.

“Once the CDC guidance was updated Wednesday, the staff member who had travelled to Italy self-quarantined, despite the fact there are no symptoms of illness showing,” said Phelan.

“Given this staff member’s return from Italy was on Sunday, February 23, the staff member will return to work on Monday, March 9, as this will represent the expiration of the two week quarantine period,” noted Phelan.

Belmont is just one of several eastern Massachusetts school districts in which educators and staffers have self-quarantined, including Watertown and Beverly.

Belmont High School students were informed this past week that planned school trips during the April break to Spain and China have been cancelled due to the virus. Spain has about 260 cases and 3 deaths while China has been the epicenter of the virus with nearly 81,000 with the virus and 3,045 deaths.

As Belmont schools are where the largest concentration of people congregate during the work week, the district have begun disinfecting and sanitizing high-touch surfaces in the district’s six schools with hospital-grade equipment.

“As you know this is the season for the common flu and our efforts will help reduce the spread of a number of problematic pathogens,” said Phelan.

Earlier this week, Belmont Health Director Wesley Chin said there was a low risk of Belmont residents catching the virus.