OpEd: Families Request Further Consideration of Bedford’s School Reopening Plan

At the School Committee Meeting on August 5, the community comments were dominated by talk of ensuring that remote-only learners are taken care of. We know now that only 20% of students will be in that cohort according to the non-binding survey. We respectfully ask that there be more opportunity afforded to engage with the 80% of families that want in-person learning.

We are writing today [August 17, 2020] to strongly suggest, with all of the power that 101 signatories (collected in the last 48 hours) gives us, that you consider adopting some version of a ½-day every-day plan for Davis and Lane Schools, similar to the ones being adopted by Concord, Burlington, and other communities.

Under this version of a hybrid plan, all core academic content—math, ELA, science, social studies—would be taught in-person. Non-core content—foreign language, art, music, library, PE—would occur at home in the afternoons using Google Classroom and SeeSaw.

We feel that short of a full return, this is the best overall option for kids, teachers, and families. It has the following obvious benefits:

  • Routine and consistency, so important to the littlest learners
  • No loss of momentum between in-person days
  • The ability for teachers to focus on one job (in-person teaching and learning for classroom teachers; remote learning for the specials teachers) rather than tending to both remote and in-person learners on a daily basis. Possibly provides teachers some much-needed flexibility, and perhaps time to tend to their own families while working remotely on lesson planning for part of the day.
  • Reduced mask fatigue
  • Option for “cohort C” kids to stay into the afternoon to receive services

It also eliminates these drawbacks which would be a problem in the 2-day-on/3-day-off hybrid plan:

  • The need for parents (or tutor) to guide students through crucial core content work
  • Potential exposure via special’s teachers that come to every classroom
  • Exposure risk during maskless lunch
  • The need for all kids to have a plan for off-days, whether Kid’s Club, a “pod,” a babysitter, play dates, whatever.
  • Deepening the divide between haves and have-nots; between kids with parents at home, and kids with parents who have to work. For example, Kids Club will be open to some families on off-days, but there is no guarantee that their infrastructure can support remote learning. These are serious equity and inclusion issues.

We have tried to learn more about whether or not a ½ day every-day plan has even been explored, but have not received any satisfactory answers. When a school committee member asked at the Aug. 5th meeting whether something similar to the Concord plan had been examined for Bedford, the answer provided by administrators was off-topic.
Asked about it again, the response had to do with the social and emotional needs of 6–12 learners also being important. We do not suggest they aren’t. What we do know, however, is that they are different and that chasing a one-size solution for all learners, preK-12 is a fool’s errand that will leave everyone short.

Outside of the meeting, many of us have tried emailing various administrators and similarly have not received satisfactory answers. If a more creative plan than what is currently being proposed is not possible, we’d like to understand why. Is it a strict adherence to 6’ (even though the MA chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the WHO, and DESE says 3’)? If so, we think it’s worth talking about. With 20% of kids at home, we must be only a few students over capacity for 6’. So give everyone 5’, or create small pods of kids for collaborative work that can be closer, and don’t let those pods mix. In practice, all kids are going to get within 6’ no matter what. Not to mention, with any ½ day plan, we avoid maskless lunch, which would itself be a risk. As long as everyone is masked, the schools are properly ventilated, we minimize mixing, and we maximize being outside, this seems an unreasonable excuse for discarding the idea out of hand.

Here are variations, too, that we think are worth discussion. Could we hire one more teacher per grade and spread kids out to 6’ by using the gym, cafeteria, library, etc.? Could we maintain distancing but still get kids in every day with a morning and afternoon cohort? It has to be a problem we can solve. As many experts have pointed out recently, a hybrid plan that has kids fully at home on some days could be a public health
disaster. Shouldn’t we try to avoid it (without reverting to all-remote for all)?

We know the hour is late, and we recognize that you cannot possibly let us in on every detail and minute decision you make, or you’d never get any work done. But this kind of high-level idea does, we think, deserve a discussion with more detailed feedback than “it won’t work.” Maybe you fully vetted it and there are many reasons it won’t work aside from the 6’ of distancing. We are not demanding any particular outcome other than to be included in your reasoning and to have a chance for some of our ideas and concerns to be heard.

Please understand, too, that we will ultimately do all we can to make whatever model is chosen work for our kids. All of us want our children to have the best possible outcomes no matter the obstacles. We know you do, too.

To reach out to the writers, email bedfordpreK5@gmail.com


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