At his daily press briefing last Thursday Mayor Martin Walsh, along with Boston Public School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, laid out BPS’s phased plan to reopen schools in the fall amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
At the briefing, Mayor Walsh called the plan a “flexible model” and schools across the district will have unique circumstances that require somewhat different approaches to each phase.
According to the plan all BPS students will begin with remote learning on September 21. Then, BPS will gradually introduce optional hybrid learning for all students, starting with the highest need students and the youngest students. BPS will then introduce optional hybrid learning for additional grade levels, starting with the youngest students, and moving up into the higher grades.
Each new phase will be contingent upon the most up-to-date public health metrics.
“This is the best approach to educate our children,” said Walsh. “It creates an on-ramp for students to return to the classroom, in a safe and careful way. This is the best way to tackle opportunity and achievement gaps in our city. We’re going to make remote learning as high quality as we possibly can. I have a lot of faith in our teachers to do that, and we’re going to support them. But every day outside the classroom is a lost opportunity for many students. Schools mean more than learning. They mean essential services, care and mentoring, and social development. The other benefit is flexibility. We can adapt this plan to the health circumstances. We have more options for moving forward.”
Walsh said this approach will give the city and BPS time to assess health data before each step with the Boston Public Health Commission. It will allow the City of Boston and BPS to address learning needs and opportunity gaps in person and by providing extra help for students learning online. In every step, families have the choice of whether to opt-in to hybrid learning or stay fully remote.
“The bottom line is this: We need to contain the virus and keep our communities safe,” said Walsh. “Kids need to get back to school, in many cases for reasons of equity and safety. And we need to provide quality education, in whatever format is required. That’s what this plan makes possible. Every step along the way will follow science and public health data. Every family will have the choice about when to send children into school. And 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.”
Walsh and Cassellius said school facilities will be in full compliance with state public health guidelines from the first day anyone enters those buildings, staff or students, and that work is happening now. It will be complete and ongoing, as teachers and school leaders help identify additional steps.
Cassellius said teachers will begin professional development on Tuesday, September 8 for teaching both the remote and hybrid models.
“Equity remains at the center of Boston Public Schools’ planning for a safe and successful start to the school year,” said Cassellius. “This plan prioritizes meeting the needs of our most vulnerable learners, respects family choice, and is thorough, thoughtful and responsive to the feedback we have received from families and teachers. We are excited for the new school year and will continue to support the social, emotional, and physical wellness of our students, staff and community as we lift up equity, promote health and safety, and ensure educators, staff, and families are prepared to support our students in their learning.”
On October 1, the BPS plan outlines two options for families: the first is all remote learning continues with five days a week of online instruction and the second is a hybrid learning with two days a week of learning in schools and three days of remote learning.
Students in the hybrid model will be assigned into Group A or Group B. Students in Group A will attend schools on Mondays and Tuesdays and students in Group B will attend school on Thursdays and Fridays (see sidebar).
All will learn online on Wednesdays to allow for cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing of buildings. 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.
“Science and data is at the forefront of every single plan as we work to gradually and safely reopen the City of Boston,” said the city’s Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez. “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.”
To see the full plan with complete details about this plan, go to bostonpublicschools.org/Reopening.