School Committee Approves Plan for Schools to Reopen Under Hybrid Model

At an over-subscribed Zoom meeting that became a webinar with 479 participants on August 5, the School Committee heard a presentation and recommendation by Superintendent Philip Conrad, questioned district leadership about the school reopening process, and ultimately voted to approve a plan that would allow schools to open this Fall under a hybrid model.

Superintendent Presentation and Recommendation
Click this link to view the Bedford TV live stream of this section of the meeting.

After two hours of public comment, Superintendent Philip Conrad presented the district’s three plans required by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) guidelines. Click this link to read DESE’s guidelines.

While the district was able to maintain three feet of separation between students and other DESE requirements, Conrad announced that the district would not recommend or pursue an all-in-person model. Conrad added that DESE’s requirement for three feet of separation did not correlate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation of six feet of separation between students.

When discussing the district’s all remote model, Conrad noted that he was impressed with the plan, compared to the program used in the Spring of 2020. Many of the inconsistencies and problems were fixed, according to Conrad, improving the educational opportunities for an all-remote model.

Conrad juxtaposed both the in-person and remote options with the district’s hybrid proposal. The hybrid model would incorporate the use of cohorts in dividing the student body that attends in-person education on a specific day. This model, unlike the full in-person model, would allow for the six feet of distance.

As a follow up to Conrad’s August 5 letter to parents, he presented a Learning Management System (LMS) that will allow Bedford students to attend school virtually in addition to the three DESE required plans. Click this link to read Conrad’s August 5 letter.

Conrad noted that the district was tasked to balance three major factors allowing limited access with safety protocols to in-person education to families and students, support families and students who elect to continue to learn remotely, and maintain the ability to pivot should circumstances change.

With these three recommendations, Conrad urged the School Committee to elect a hybrid model. Conrad noted that the district would need to remain alert to changing metrics and the state and federal response to Covid-19.

Conrad noted that with the high likelihood of remote education, JGMS will adopt a one-to-one model and provide every student with a Chromebook. This will allow the district to assure capacity for students to complete their work remotely.

Students across all grades will be expected to utilize remote education technologies. Davis School students will utilize Seesaw. Lane, JGMS, and Bedford High will primarily continue to use Google Classroom, Zoom, and Google Meets.

Conrad also reiterated the MIAA’s announcement that sports will begin on September 14, with games allowed on September 24 at the earliest. Click this link to review the MIAA season parameters.

School Committee Questioning
Click this link to view the Bedford TV live stream of this section of the meeting.

School Committee member JoAnn Santiago asked Conrad about the fate of specials, also referred to as electives at the High School level, courses often requiring special materials.

Conrad explained that the art departments are constructing packets of supplies for student use.  For physical education classes, teachers will aim to teach classes outdoor. Band and orchestra classes will be taught outside and students will remain ten feet apart. Conrad said all departments are looking at the guidelines and trying to find out how to do the best job possible.

Santiago also asked Conrad about the response that the district has received from parents of METCO students. Conrad mentioned that parents of METCO students are worried about the long time spent on bus-rides, but the district is working to help address those concerns.

School Committee member Ann Guay asked the district leadership how a normal school day would look under the hybrid model. Assistant Superintendent Tricia Clifford explained that the plan concentrates on increased interaction between students and teachers. This is in response to the limited interaction that students had throughout the Spring. By partnering with the BEA, the district hopes to create plans to ensure that students can learn, Clifford explained.

Guay also asked if students within K-5 will receive devices to complete remote education. Conrad assured Guay that students across all grades, including K-5, will receive technology to enable them to complete their work. When asked if the district is working with neighboring communities to improve its programming. Conrad mentioned that Bedford has been working with other districts in the area and many of the plans share similarities.

School Committee Secretary Brad Morrison questioned the structure of days when students are not in school. Clifford explained that students will likely work on projects with peer groups. Clifford stressed that students will still be responsible for their assignments.

School Committee Vice-Chair Sarah Scoville asked Conrad and Clifford about their choice of the hybrid plan that would have students attend school on Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. Clifford explained that this decision was made for academic and social-emotion reasons. Rather than allowing a week between learning and checking in with teachers, students will be better served under this model, Conrad added.

School Committee Chair Dan Brosgol asked Conrad if families know if their students are in Cohort C. This cohort is intended for students who struggle to learn in a remote environment. Conrad responded to Brosgol’s question saying that Cohort C isn’t finalized yet and when it is no students would be forced into it, but invited to participate.

As the district works to prevent a possible outbreak of Covid-19, Brosgol asked Health Director Heidi Porter about the town’s contact tracking program. Porter explained that multiple town employees are trained, including school nurses.

When asked about the school’s mask policy, Conrad said that everyone entering the school — students, teachers, administrators, department employees, and visitors alike — will be required to wear a face mask.

School Committee Decision 
Click this link to watch this part of the meeting on Bedford TV’s live stream.

As Brosgol moved the School Committee closer to a final vote, the Chair addressed his colleagues and the audience with a speech acknowledging the consequences of the Committee’s decision.  Brosgol encouraged the School Committee to adopt a hybrid model due to its ability to transition to a full in-person or a remote model easily.

Morrison stated his support for a hybrid model, believing that parents should be able to help decide the direction of their children’s education. He also believes teachers deserve a choice. However, Morrison spoke against the previous motion as it failed to include an option for students and teachers to elect an all-remote option.

After various final questions from the School Committee members, the following motion was adopted unanimously.

Moved that the Bedford School Committee approve the fully in-person, hybrid and fully remote learning plans as presented, and that the district begins the 2020-2021 school year using the hybrid model.

Furthermore, should the hybrid or fully in-person model be implemented, families will have the option to go all remote if they so choose, and that between now and the opening of schools, the Reopening Task Forces and the Bedford Educator Association will continue to work on the operational details for each model.  

The School Committee will meet again in three weeks to review the progress of the hybrid model.

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