Mayor Martin Walsh and Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Brenda Cassellius last week announced a phased-in approach to the start of the 2020-2021 school year, with all students beginning with remote learning.
The plan was announced at a press conference on August 21, where Walsh said “we feel this is the best approach to educate our children.”
The plan includes four phases, excluding the “getting ready” phase from September 8-18, which includes teacher preparation and family engagement, as well as a “tech checkup” and a log on test for students.
Phase One, which begins on September 21, includes remote learning for all students. Phase Two, which begins no sooner than October 1, will allow “students with the highest needs” to attend classes in person with a hybrid model. In Phase 3, students in grades K0, K1, and K2 will begin the hybrid model on October 15 and 19 on a B/A schedule and Grades 1-3 will begin on October 22 using the same schedule.
Phase Four will begin no sooner than November 5 and 9 for grades 4-8 on a B/A schedule, and grades 9-12 will begin on an A/B schedule no sooner than November 16 and 19.
“This is a very flexible model,” Walsh said. He said the phased approach allows teachers and staff to get to “get comfortable” with the safety measures inside the classroom before students return.
Parents will still have the choice to opt out of the hybrid model and have their children attend all remote classes, as the mayor and superintendent have previously said.
The hybrid model includes two days of in-person learning per week, and three days of learning remotely.
In the hybrid model, students will be placed in either Group A (attending school on Mondays and Tuesdays) or Group B (attending schools on Thursdays and Fridays).
“All will learn online on Wednesdays to allow for cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing of buildings,” according to a release from the City, and “there are specific plans to work with students with disabilities, students who are working towards English language proficiency, and others who require additional time and care to support their learning.”
For in-person learning, schools have been prepared to create safe environments for students, teachers, and staff, and are equipped with PPE, have been thoroughly cleaned, widows have been fixed, and air flow systems checked and updated. Classrooms have been rearranged to allow for social distancing, and there are several cleaning and sanitization protocols in place as well, the City said.
Walsh said that work continues on making remote learning “as high quality as possible,” and the flexibility of this plan means that it can be adapted to changing health data.
“The bottom line is we need to contain the virus and keep our community safe,” he said.
“Students, families and schools have faced incredible challenges this year, and I want to thank them for their work and patience. I know starting school is a complex decision, and our priority has always been to ensure the safety of everyone, while keeping equity for students at the forefront of every decision,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement. “This plan was developed with the input of families, educators and public health experts, and every step will follow science and public health data. For many of our students, school is not just a place to learn, but also a place for nutritious meals, care and mentoring, and social development. Throughout the school year and beyond, we will continue the work that began long before COVID-19: to close opportunity and achievement gaps, and give every single child the quality education that they deserve.”
At the press conference, he added that work on closing opportunity and achievement gaps that began even before the pandemic will continue.
“We all believe in making BPS the greatest urban district in the country,” he said, thanking students and families for their continued cooperation throughout this process.
“We’re moving forward [with this plan] because we know the best place for a child is in the classroom with their teacher,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said at the press conference. “Their child development is precious. Our kids don’t get a rewind—they only get one childhood.”
Cassellius also said that equity has remained at the forefront of decisions, adding that BPS will “continue to listen to and respect our parents’ voice.”
She said that based on a recently completed racial equity analysis, it was suggested that “we prioritize students who require in-person instruction, according to parent request. Then, prioritize other high needs students in a phased-in approach, contingent upon public health guidance.”
She said that some students have a greater need to learn in person than others, which is something she heard “loud and clear” during her many listening sessions.
For families who are worried about childcare for remote learning days, Cassellius said that BPS is working on an “innovative partnership with Boston After School & Beyond and all of our many partners that we are exploring right now in order to expand off their wonderful summer program and provide other opportunities for families and children in their out of school day.”
Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez said in a statement, “Science and data is at the forefront of every single plan as we work to gradually and safely reopen the City of Boston. By phasing grades in every two weeks, teachers and school staff will have the time they need to get comfortable with the safety of their buildings and classrooms before students arrive, and allow us to monitor for any COVID activity between phases. As we have said from the beginning, these dates are dependent on public health data, and we will be closely monitoring the public health situation while creating a safe space for Boston’s students to learn.”
Any families who have questions about the upcoming school year can send them to [email protected].
“Thank you for helping our children get back to school safely,” Cassellius said.