School Committee Votes Lane School Full Return as soon as March 15; Retains Full-Remote Option

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Third, fourth, and fifth-grade students will be returning to Lane School four days a week as soon as March 15, following a unanimous vote by the School Committee late Tuesday night.

The plan, which retains the full-remote option but drops hybrid, is based on converting the art room, library, and computer room to classrooms and doubling up pairs of adjoining rooms so they can be managed through connecting doors.

Reopening will require six new teachers and three additional educational assistants. The School Committee approved spending up to $136,000 to cover the salaries for three months. The total bill for reopening Lane and Davis Schools is about $273,000.

None of the Covid-19 protocols implemented this year will be compromised; indeed, the six-foot distancing is the reason for the classroom additions. “We know that our schools are safe. The data now is so clear,” said Dan Brosgol, School Committee chair. “In the absence of teacher vaccinations, I am not comfortable taking a step back from anything. I am happy to spend more to keep our protocols right where they are.”

Tuesday’s discussion and vote were preceded by more than an hour-and-a-half of public comments, comprising 31 speakers, most of whom advocated a return to in-person instruction.

Job Lane School Principal Rob Ackerman presented a detailed explanation. He said 80 students out of 350 will have to be relocated from current classrooms to make the new configuration work.  He added that the plan can accommodate fully-remote students who opt to return.

Tuesday’s vote came several hours after the state education commissioner announced that the administration wants all schools to reopen for the elementary grades by April. But that was a coincidence—the Lane plan has been in the works for several weeks. And first and second graders are already scheduled to return to Davis School in March.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad and committee members acknowledged that they still need to address ways to bring more students in grades 6-12 back to their buildings,

Ackerman said there are three internal prospects who would be elevated to fill the teaching vacancies. “I feel we could move fairly fast,” Ackerman said. He acknowledged that if the hiring process is prolonged, he would aim to launch the grade 3 reopening first. “We won’t know until we advertise.” Committee member Sarah Scoville agreed with that priority; third grade is especially “crucial,” she commented.

All changes “will be clearly communicated to parents, teachers, and students,” Conrad said. As adjustments are planned and executed, the “collaborative, cooperative approach” continues.

Here are the details Ackerman outlined:

  • Grade 3: Create two new classes, one in the art room and one in the computer room. Ackerman said 24 out of 133 third graders would move from the current classrooms.  Other classes would be configured in contiguous rooms connected by interior doors, so teachers and assistants could move between them while maintaining distancing in each. “For the most part, these adjoining rooms would have a special-education teacher attached to them. The kids will still feel part of a community.”
  • Grade 4: Create one class in the library and another in adjoining classrooms. The reconfiguration will necessitate moving 28 out of 110 fourth-graders.
  • Grade 5: Create two new classes in contiguous rooms. The principal said 28 students would be moved.

“We tried extra hard to use as many of the large spaces as possible,” Ackerman said. “We can’t get it down to zero students moving out of current classrooms, but I am confident we can keep  friends together so it’s not going to feel like starting all over.”

Ackerman reviewed the preparatory steps he envisions. “There’s a lot involved in the transition but the wheels have already started,” he observed. School will be closed for a day for moving furniture and supplies. Administrators will order additional materials and work with Bedford Charter Service to modify bus schedules.  More cars are anticipated, so the afternoon pickup window will be extended, he said.

Conrad and committee members lauded Ackerman and the Lane School faculty and staff. “The plan is really solid,” the superintendent asserted. “I think it’s a valiant presentation,” said Brosgol. “To me, it sings. Now a pathway for a full return is right in front of us.”

“Our teachers do an absolutely fantastic job,” said Ackerman, in his 14th year at the helm of Lane. He particularly cited Assistant Principal Keith Kinney, who, among other things, came up with the concept of using contiguous classrooms. With fewer than four months before summer vacation, “The teachers are willing to do what it takes. It’s what they are doing right now.”

Ackerman recognized the anxiety among families. He said, in answer to a question, that he did not consider available spaces in other public buildings. Conrad seconded that approach, saying it is crucial to students’ social and emotional well-being “to be in their building with their teachers, their administrators, their nurse, their cafeteria workers.” Member Ann Guay said she couldn’t find a single professional “who thought it would work to go outside the building.”

Asked by member Brad Morrison why he recommended dissolving the two-day-a-week in-school hybrid option, which has accommodated most students this year, Ackerman said, “it becomes a managerial and logistical nightmare.” He gave an example in which teachers would be live streaming for two students. “If we feel it’s safe, I don’t see why we would have a two-day option. We can’t slice and dice the options too much; it’s not fair to the teachers.”

Assistant Superintendent Tricia Clifford and others emphasized the need to address the status of grades 6-12.  “Our work is not completed. We have a lot to do,” Brosgol said. Bedford High School Principal Heather Galante is scheduled to discuss these issues at the March 9 School Committee meeting,

Conrad noted the announcement earlier in the day from Jeffrey C. Riley, commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. It called for all districts to return to five-day-a-week classroom learning by April through fifth grade. Conrad said the directive called for maintaining six feet of distancing when feasible and at least three feet if six isn’t feasible, as long as all other virus mitigation protocols remain in effect, such as masks and ventilation.

The biggest concern was the five days a week, as Bedford has been operating Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Wednesdays are for teachers’ planning and coordination as well as “deep cleaning” the buildings.

Guay emphasized that “education is all locally controlled. The School Committee and administration make decisions.” Morrison pointed out that, by decertifying the educational time requirements for remote learning, the commissioner could force districts to bring students back to classrooms.

Brosgol said that mandate would trigger “hidden costs” like food and buses, and “there’s not a lot of money lying around.” Morrison said, “We would have to make sure we’re working within the contract and the memorandum of understanding with the teachers.” Asked by Guay if there are prospects for more federal financial aid, Finance Director Julie Kirrane said anything is “still at the proposal stage in Washington,” but she is optimistic.

“I think we’ve continued to be ahead of the curve,” Conrad commented. “But we have to be very careful to be sure we do it collaboratively with our teachers and our families to make sure whatever we do is sustainable.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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