Thank you to the teachers, administration, committee members, and volunteers for the hard work and many hours it’s taken to develop our reopening plans and safely enable some form of in-person learning this fall. This letter’s intent is to share the dialogue that many concerned parents have had privately with various members of the school administration, School Committee members, and Town staff. There is a growing group of Bedford School District parents (the Facebook group Bring Bedford Back Safely currently has almost 70 members) who find remote instruction unworkable despite everyone’s best efforts. We are asking the collective decision makers in Bedford to prioritize the development of a data-driven, metrics-based plan to safely enable a return to full in-person learning.
To date, the Town’s efforts have been focused on standing up the Hybrid model and offering a “Bedford for Bedford” remote learning option to all families who chose it. To be clear, the signatories to this letter are not suggesting forcing all children back into school by removing the remote option, nor are we suggesting that the health risks of COVID-19 be ignored. We are struggling and we are seeing our children struggle. We see neighboring towns throughout the state and New England implement different models, many prioritizing in-person learning for the youngest learners and those who require additional in-person services. We’ve seen that the current transmission rate in our community is extremely low and has been for several weeks. Although there have been a handful of cases, Bedford school children have been back in school buildings for a month and a half with no outbreaks or widespread transmission. We have reviewed guidance by the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, DESE, and others, that emphasize the importance of in-person learning with appropriate safety measures.
The reality is that remote learning through a computer screen is, at best, a poor substitute for in-person learning. As noted by the American Association of Pediatrics, “The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits…” among many other negative impacts.
Thus far, we have not seen sufficient progress regarding the development of a plan, or transparency around what factors will go into the decision to enable more in-person learning. Collectively, we are left with more questions than answers and are respectfully requesting that the School Committee and school administration pursue the following:
- Develop a plan to maximize in-person learning, with an ultimate goal to resume full-time in-person learning as soon as possible.
- Provide full transparency regarding what data, metrics, guidance, etc., will be considered in the decision-making process to enable more in-person learning. We request a community forum to facilitate a dialogue on how to increase in-person learning so that we may understand what options have been explored, and what factors are influencing the result. We recognize that we are not the decision makers nor do we have full visibility into all of the complexities that this situation presents, but we need to better understand the thought process, progress to date, and next steps in creating a plan.
- Allocate and prioritize current resources (monetary and non-monetary) to increase the amount of in-person instruction, starting with our youngest learners returning to school at the beginning of January, 2021, or sooner. A one-size-fits-all approach does not recognize the different academic and social/emotional needs students have throughout the four school buildings.
- Develop and adopt a 2021-2022 school year budget that provides the resources needed to maximize in-person learning. Now is the time to act, as budget development for the next fiscal year is well underway.
- Continue to offer a remote option taught by Bedford teachers, in recognition of the fact that remote-only learning is still needed for families who are equally concerned with their children returning to in-person learning.
- Address the return to in-person learning as an agenda item at the next School Committee meeting on October 27th and all subsequent meetings.
As Joseph Allen, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health associate professor of exposure science recently said in The Harvard Gazette, “There are devastating consequences from kids being out of school. This is a national emergency. That’s not overstating it.” We agree, and we urge you to start this process.
Many of the members of Bring Bedford Back Safely will be attending the October 27th school committee meeting to provide public comment and urge continued discussion on this important matter.
Lastly, to provide an additional perspective, we plan to share more about our children’s challenges with the current model in subsequent articles in The Bedford Citizen.
Respectfully submitted, on behalf of Bring Bedford Back Safely members Isabell & Steve Dalaklis, Melissa & Joshua Farb, Katie & Dave Guerino, Julie Halloran, Alessandra & Joe Harton, Michele & Josh Herron, Julie & Ben Hollingsworth, Kelly & Doug Horton, Lisa & Stephan Hovnanian, Jess & Caley Iandiorio, Melissa & Mike Lynch, Scott & Cheryl Maloney, Emily & Scott Martin, Christina & Darren Miller, Trinity Nolan, Katy & Kyle O’Connor, Jeanette & Graham Schmidt, Leslie Savoy, Carey & Mike Sclafani, Becky Venuti, Meredith & Steve Wasko, and Virginia & John Whitesides.