School Committee Approves Phased Re-Opening Plan

The Everett School Committee voted 7-0 during an Emergency Meeting on Aug. 6 to approve a school re-opening plan that starts the year mostly remote, but will offer e-Learning Centers for the most needy students and to families that need child supervision or don’t have reliable internet access.

Supt. Priya Tahiliani said the plan is due to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on Aug. 14, and the final result is the product of many hours of collaboration with the community, school officials, City leaders and parents. It is, she said, a very unique plan as well.

“Our approach is different from that being taken by other districts,” she said. “It is not likely something you have heard mentioned in any of the numbers of media reports that have put forth every probable scenario schools might enact in September. This is very distinctively our plan for Everett. This is what we’ve determined is best for the students and families of our diverse community. We are implementing a phased opening with three disstinct phases…A key is we didn’t want our families to be forced into a decision of educating their students at home or going to work. We have flexible options…We are not asking parents to make a year-long decision in September. We will move forward together in a phased plan as a district.”

Phase 1 in the plan is a fully remote option and starts on Tuesday, Sept. 15. Students will primarily learn from home from teachers who are also remote, but there is a caveat in the schools will offer e-Learning Centers throughout the city in large spaces at the school buildings.

The e-Learning Centers were explained really for the first time on Thursday, and are a way to accommodate students in special education, who have Independent Learning Plans, who need more assistance, who are English Learners or whose parents work full-time preventing them from being able to supervise their students.

The e-Learning Centers will be a choice for parents, and they will be held in the larger spaces of various buildings across the city, like gyms and cafeterias and auditoriums. They will be thoroughly cleaned and there will be School Nurses present and temperature checks. Students will work independently and no teacher will be present, though there will be monitors or guides to help students if necessary. Just who will staff the e-Learning Centers is still up in the air and under negotiation with the ETA.

Tahiliani said they are trying to keep to a monitor/student ratio of 20 students per monitor.

A key to Phase 1, Tahiliani said, was the survey done of parents, students and teachers. For families, it was revealed that roughly 22 percent do not have quality, high-speed internet at home – meaning that some accommodation had to be made to help those families go to a school building with internet or get internet into their homes. Another key there was the fact that 47 percent of parents were unsure what choice they would make, with 37 percent voting for some sort of in-person model. Those results weren’t enough, Tahiliani said, for them to push a hybrid, in-person model for September.

The year will begin with nine days of professional development for teachers, and a potential orientation in person for students to meet new teachers safely and to say good-bye to their teachers from last year to provide closure that didn’t get to happen.

The new remote learning plan, coupled with the district’s plan to further train teachers in remote learning, will make for a totally different experience in September than was had with remote learning in the spring.

“These will be lessons created by teachers best to be delivered remotely so they aren’t toggling between in person and remote instruction,” she said. “This will in no way resemble the emergency learning plan we had last spring.”

If things go well for Phase 1, and the science looks good statewide, the schools will prepare to move into Phase 2 on Nov. 16 – which will be the Second Quarter of the school term. In that phase, students will move to a hybrid, in-person format using a number of buildings – including the former Pope John High School building. Students will be divided into two groups, and go on an alternating schedule one week at a time. Within that, plan the most vulnerable students could potentially attend school in person several times a week.

Phase 3 would be 100 percent attendance in the school buildings and that would potentially be on Feb. 1, which would be the Third Quarter of the term. That won’t happen until things are absolutely safe, and likely when there is a vaccine or therapy to treat or prevent COVID-19. That phase through will not be an abandonment of safety protocols. Tahiliani said that phase will still mean social distancing at three feet, wearing masks, and sanitizing buildings thoroughly.

“The utmost of safety precautions will still be followed,” she said.

Cleaning the buildings will be paramount, and Tahiliani said they are ready to outsource to a cleaning company if necessary to supplement the work of the custodial team in all the schools. Meanwhile, the district is already very far ahead in terms of having PPE on hand. She said they are fully supplied for all needs through October and are getting ready to order PPE to keep in storage for the remainder of the school year.

More detailed plans for very special situations and very detailed student needs will be coming very soon, she said, but they will submit the overall outline of the district plan on Aug. 14.

School Committee members had loads of questions about the details of the plans, including instruction, building cleanliness, online learning, teacher safety and, primarily, the structure and safety of the e-Learning Centers. Those questions went on for nearly two hours during the Aug. 6 meeting, with virtually every aspect questioned and answered – if possible.

The Committee did vote unanimously 7-0 to approve the plan, and Tahiliani said once the plan is submitted and approved by DESE, they will begin talking with students and parents about their preferences for remote learning at home or in e-Learning Centers. The qualifications for e-Learning Centers will also be disseminated and hammered out as well.

Chair Tom Abruzzese said the decision for parents is a very personal one, and he said it is very hard because there is just no certainty, but being flexible and nimble with their plan is the best they can do.

“I am a person who wants kids back in school,” he said. “I have a grand-daughter who would start pre-school, but even in my own family my wife asks if we would really want her to go in person. My answer is that I do, but I also want safety to be first…You’re fearful of the exposure. With that, there is a three-phase plan. You have a plan for virtual. Phase 2 is a hybrid and Phase 3 is bringing everyone back to school…No one is going to be completely happy with the situation. I can imagine how students feel, teachers and people working in the school buildings. It seem you’re faced with an impossible task. You have to continue the education and guarantee safety for everyone…Either way, I’m confident because there’s a plan in place. This is the hand we’ve been dealt.”

One key to the plan is that it is flexible to move backward, or forward, at any point if necessary, Tahiliani said.

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