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.

High School Hybrid 2.0: New Plan Takes Out Lunch, Puts In The Minutes


The selection of a new Belmont High School hybrid plan came down to what to do with lunch.

After being presented a pair of proposals to remedy issues facing the original hybrid blueprint, the Belmont School Committee voted on Tuesday, Nov. 17 to recommend a jury-rigged plan in which students will attend class in the High School building two half days a week while spending the majority of their days learning with their peers via live streaming video.

The plan will need the approval of the district’s teacher’s union, the Belmont Education Association, as online instruction requires the union’s OK through the collective bargaining process.

The plan is scheduled to going into effect during the week of Nov. 30.

The new plan appears to accomplish what a majority of parents have been advocating since the inaugural hybrid plan was announced in August: a hefty amount of instructional time. Originally slated at 95 minutes, the Hybrid Plan 2.0 will provide 170 minutes a week of instructional time, a reduction of just 10 minutes per week from the current remote plan.

The approved plan was the culmination of a three weeks sprint by a seven-person task force cobbled together after the School Committee rescinded an earlier vote to begin the original blueprint in early October.

“I think we are at the stage here where we are developing a hybrid model that will … to get high school students back into school,” said Belmont High School Principal Issacs Taylor who led the task force.

After reviewing students, educators and parents’ feedback from three surveys and 11 plans from surrounding districts – Lexington, Newton, Wellesley, and Concord to name a few – the group settled on two concepts which checked off many of the boxes the task force set for itself. These included “non-negotiables” such as maximizing instructional time, a balance on in-person and remote learning so all students would have the same classroom experience, as well as ensuring students would remain with their same teachers and classes as they have in remote sessions.

Both options would open and close at the same time for students: 8 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. One of two equally numbered student cohorts would spend two days “at school” – either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday – during in-class instruction while their counterparts would be following the lesson from home. The big difference from the current remote plan is that all students will learn the same lessons in real-time via live streaming.

The first option was a more traditional in-class school day with two 75 minute periods before and after a 50-minute lunch break taken in their homeroom.

A number of parents who attended the Zoom-meeting were impressed with option one where students attended two complete days in classrooms while having lunch in the building.

The second option squeezes the four 55 minute classes into a morning session. A 55-minute “lunch” break is used for the in-class students to head back home to begin the second round of lessons in the same classes they took that morning, this time in 20-minute blocks.

When questioned on separating a daily class into 55 minute and 20-minute segments, Taylor said “the morning session is that opportunity for the teachers to introduce topics and students to digest them … and then that afternoon session is a way of pulling things together.”

But it wasn’t how subjects were going to be taught but rather the logistics of attempting to serve lunch to 750 students and health risks that encompasses in Option One that turned out to be a “no go” for the task force and educators who expressed discomfort in their survey response being in classrooms for four days.

“In order to have lunch for everyone in school, I believe the health metrics would have to fundamentally change based on the space that we have in the high school,” said Taylor. Since the field house is being used as classrooms, “we don’t have the capacity in the school building to have lunch outside of the homerooms and I don’t believe that is the most effective and safest way of having lunch.”

Having settled on a hybrid plan 2.0 will not result in the task force shutting down, said Taylor. It will continue as “this is just the first step” how the district will move learning forward in this pandemic.”

Opinion: Open Belmont High School With Livestreaming, A Solution That Can Be Implemented In Days [Video]

Photo: The Youtube video of the parents explaining its proposal

Belmont High School students can and need to return to in-person learning.  The hybrid model originally proposed and adopted by the School Committee resulted in an unacceptable loss of instruction time.  There is a simple, inexpensive solution that can bring our children back to school now: Extend remote livestream to hybrid livestream in days.  

Our proposal (by Sheryl Grace YouTube) is that teachers can livestream classes to all remote students so that both the in-person and remote students are learning together. Technically, this is no different than the Google Classes offered in the remote environment – teachers are using technology to teach their classes and they continue to do so. This approach has significant upside for both the students and teachers. Students are able to attend class in-person – they can see their peers and their teachers. They are in a more traditional school environment. Teachers can more clearly see their classes – what is working and what may need further explanation. And both groups are able to share an energy that cannot be transmitted online. Because the classes are live-streamed, teachers can avoid developing hours of asynchronous learning content. This model does not require months of meetings – it has been implemented by our fellow Middlesex County schools – it is working and it is ready for immediate adoption in Belmont.    

In a surprising reversal of the previous school committee vote, the committee voted to delay again the start of hybrid in high school to an unspecified time, at best January.  This decision was based on survey results which showed the community’s strong dislike of the proposed hybrid model and were willing to take a delay for a better model.  We agree that the original hybrid model removed too much instruction time, but do not agree that we need months to fix it.  Instead of looking to surrounding communities – many of which have brought their high school students back to school – the school committee decided to implement a task force with the goal of reopening in January – almost a full year after our schools were shut down.   

A number of public schools have implemented a more comprehensive hybrid plan than BPS. The delay of Belmont hybrid affords us the opportunity to “copy&paste” rather than reinventing the wheel. Key to all these hybrid models is live streaming that maximizes in person learning and instructional time, while maximizing teacher safety by allowing those teachers who require it to teach from home. Some of us have implemented live streaming in our classrooms using solutions that are within the abilities of teachers, as well as the financial and technical support available in the district. Reducing instructional time is burdensome to teachers as it requires them to retool their lesson plans and curriculum. As teachers get visual feedback from students attending in-person, they are able to be more effective for the remote students as well. This is a solution where everyone wins.  

The fear that drives school closures is understandable, but may also be exaggerated. In the past week, the infection rate among approximately 450,000 students and 75,000 teachers attending classes in person in Massachusetts was 0.029 percent and 0.09 percent respectively.  The rate during the same period was similar to Massachusetts’ population at large and supports numerous studies that conclude that schools are not a vector of infection. A report in New York Times of COVID-19 infections in New York City public schools suggests that the risks in schools may be exaggerated.

Remote learning has many failings and asynchronous learning will only exacerbate the outcomes. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette, Prof. Joseph Allen, the lead author of Harvard’s T. H. Chan report, argues that remote learning is leading to a new phenomenon of “virtual dropouts” that will have lasting impact on children’s outcomes. “[W]e have virtual dropouts. We have major school districts in the U.S. where a third of the kids are not logging in every day.” The virtual dropout” and lack of engagement is evident in Belmont High School which led the school principal to abruptly mandate students to turn the cameras on during class time.

We propose that Belmont adopt a tried and true hybrid plan now. This gets our students back to school while preserving their instruction time. It makes the jobs of our teachers easier and it does not cost the district much, if any, money. We can proceed with the task force to improve on this plan – but there is no reason to wait months when we have the answer. Time is of the essence for our children – we need to act now while the health metrics are good. 

Jamal Carlos Saeh, Sheryl Grace, Danielle Lemack, Larry Schmidt, Christine McLaughlin, Martin Zwierlein, Anja Genia Meichsner, Patrick Whittemore, Karl Ivester, Maíra Rejane Marques Samary, Heather Ivester, Colleen Doherty-Minicozzi, Laurie Manjikian, Jane MacKinnon, Stephanie Hovsepian, Chris McLaughlin, Maysoun Shomali, Jill Callanan, Elizabeth Woo, Michael Callanan, Mikhail Zaslavskiy, Beth Halloran, Laura French, Ron Creamer, Nancy Quinn, Julie Meringer, Jacqueline Agular, Patrick J Murphy, David Thesmar, Fleur Thesmar, Olga Shyshko, Tamara Kefeyan, Katherine Hawko, Tim Halloran, Joe Quinn, Judy Dacey, Jennifer G. Ausrotas, Ray Ausrotas

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.

‘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.”

Hybrid Learning For K-4 Pushed Up To Oct. 5; Calls For Grades 5-12 To Follow

Photo: Hybrid plans accelerated

The Belmont School Committee approved moving up the date kindergarteners and elementary students will begin full hybrid learning by two weeks to Monday, Oct. 5, allowing nearly 2,000 students to start partial in-school learning.

“Two weeks is tight but we’re committed to hearing the feedback and responding to the school committee’s desire to have this happen sooner than later,” said Belmont School Superintendent John Phelan.

At another marathon committee meeting held remotely on Tuesday, Sept. 22, Phelan told the six member board the district accelerated the start date for K-4 students “reacting and responding to the community feedback that has asked to tightened up” the time between entering each new phase.

Earlier in the meeting, the committee approved the kindergarten and elementary school hybrid schedule which will be used by students. It consists of two cohorts of students attending school three half dsfdays the first week while spending two other days online.

Phelan said the school district is now following a newly redesigned four phase approach, removing the recently installed “bridge” phase and beefing up Phase 2 to include full K-4 hybrid learning. Middle and high school students will remain learning remotely.

While not yet approved by the school committee, the district showed on a PowerPoint slide that grades 5-12 could anticipate entering their hybrid phase on Monday, Oct. 22.

The district’s discussion to accelerate the move to hybrid learning is due to a pair of good news on the health and safety front. Despite a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in the past week, Belmont remains on the “good side” of the state’s health metric. The district is also nearly complete with its project to increase the air flow to all rooms in each of the six school buildings. By meeting these two measures, the district can now move towards hiring the needed teaching staff to handle remote learners and create schedules for children who require transportation.

Current K-4 teachers will use the next two weeks to prepare their classrooms for learning, said Phelan.

Since the start of schools last Wednesday, between 120-130 pre-kindergarteners, students designated as having “high needs” and English language learners are being taught in the four elementary schools with full day instruction, said Phelan.

Under Phase 2, an additional 100 students with special needs and English learners who will be attending both the Chenery and the High School. “This next phase is a real scaling up not just for the elementary schools in full but also for another layer of student at the middle school and high school,” said Phelan.

While praising the work the district has done in getting “our K through 12 students in the door,” School Committee member Michael Crowley asked if there was some possibility to bring the remaining students back into the classrooms “a little bit earlier.”

Saying he might be receiving emails that “won’t be happy with what I’m about say,” Phelan said the scaling up behind the scenes what needs to be done for the middle and high schools – placing students and siblings in cohorts, making sure transportation can be done safely, hiring teachers for remote learners – “is infinitely more complex” compared to the elementary schools.

“We’ve accelerated [the date to enter hybrid learning] twice already and the educators are already very concerned about their ability to complete this task to the satisfaction that everybody would like so we are trying to meet in the middle and respond accordingly,” said Phelan.

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

Schools Could Enter Hybrid A Month Earlier After District Hears From Parents

Photo: An update for the hybrid phase.

Saying they heard the concerns of parents, the Belmont School District has moved up by nearly a month the earliest date district schools can begin the hybrid phase.

In an update to the district’s “Return-to-Learning Fall 2020” blueprint during the Belmont School Committee meeting on Sept. 3., the district has added an additional 5th phase – dubbed 1.5 – as “a bridge to hybid” to allow “our youngest learners to meet with the peer … and to get time with their teachers,” explained John Phelan, superintendent of Belmont schools.

Phelan told the committee the most asked questions from parents was “Can we get to the hybrid phase sooner?” The guardians of elementary students also spoke urgently on the need for younger pupils “to be with their teachers.” Phelan said that the inclusion of the new phase will accomplish both goals.

In the new phase (squeezed in-between remote phases 1 and 2), approximately 1,900 Kindergarten to fourth-grade students will be divided into two groups – or cohorts – and each will meet their teachers and fellow students for two hours on a Tuesday and Thursday.

With Phase 1.5, “we could get students in quicker” into the hybrid phase, said Phelan, as the K-4 students will have had modified in-person learning and will allow all students to move into Phase 3.

Under this new guideline, the transition time between the phases will be shortened from three weeks to two and cutting two weeks from the previous “earliest” hybrid starting date of Nov. 9 to now Oct. 26.

But as Phelan has stated previous, any change between phases will depend on a pair of metrics that the School Committee agreed to last week.

Phelan said of the pair of metrics the district will use to determine when to move between phases, “we can check off” the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recorded two-week community infection rate that is currently registering below 1 percent in Belmont which places the community in the “green” zone which allows for a move between phases.

The second benchmark, the air exchange study, is currently underway and the results will be released at the end of the coming week on Sept. 11. and go before the school committee for review the next week.

Also during the meeting, the principals from the elementary, middle school and high schools introduced the hybrid learning plans for their schools.