School Committee Will Review Science, Metrics in Weighing Return to School

The Everett School Committee will review COVID-19 data over the next few weeks to decide on whether or not to move forward with the second phase of hybrid in-person schooling on Nov. 16 – making a decision at the Nov. 2 meeting of the Committee.

Supt. Priya Tahiliani spoke about the plan at the meeting Monday night, noting that the phased-in approach called for the schools to return students in a hybrid format by Nov. 16. That is looking more and more like an impossibility as COVID cases in Everett creep up and the City remains in a ‘red’ high-risk zone as defined by the state Department of Public Health. There are 63 cities and towns in Massachusetts now in the ‘red,’ and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) strongly encourages districts in the ‘red’ to remain with remote schooling. That is precisely why the district finds itself at a crossroads.

“Our phased plan calls for a planned return on Nov. 16 with one week on and one week off,” said Tahiliani. “Because of everything going on now, I want to make sure you have the data to help you decide what to do regarding moving forward with Phase 2.”

Everett was one of the first school districts to present a phased approach with all-remote learning starting on Sept. 21, moving steadily with the quarters to a hybrid model on Nov. 16 and hopefully in person fully in January. Few thought things would be where they are now, where the extreme possibility exists that hybrid education wouldn’t be possible in November.

Supt. Tahiliani told the Committee she is pulling together a working group of diverse voices inside and outside the schools to look at the data. She will make a recommendation to the School Committee at the meeting on Nov. 2.

Tahiliani said there are three options to weigh.

First, the Committee could vote to go forward as is on Nov. 16 with Phase 2.

They would also change the hybrid model to a less-risky format. Right now they were planning to go five days, and then be remote five days. To reduce the risk, the Committee could decide to go to a format where Group A goes on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday becomes a cleaning day with remote learning for all, and then Group B attends in person on Thursday and Friday. Another idea is to go in-person in the morning hours, she said, and then do remote work in the afternoon.

Members weren’t too vocal on the decision yet, but Chair Tom Abruzzese said he feels the state system is somewhat political, and Everett isn’t likely to ever get out of the ‘red’ given the high population and density of homes.

“It really becomes a political situation,” he said. “I love Gov. Baker, but I know he also wants everyone in school yesterday. At some point, it seems Everett, Revere and Chelsea are forever in the red zone. We’ll never get out of the red zone. It seems a foregone conclusion that’s where we’ll be.”

Member Millie Cardillo said she would like to see some of the special needs students continue going to school, and even expand those numbers for those populations. She also said she would like to see the CTE students that have hands-on work programs allowed to be in the school for a portion of their programming.

“I’d like to see that CTE implemented there some way,” she said. “Those subjects needs to be more hands-on. Our CSD students also need one-on-one. If we have to postpone the hybrid for all students, I’d still like to see more programming brought back for these students in person.”

Tahiliani did agree with that, and said they would like to keep some forward momentum if hybrid is postponed by safely implementing more in-person services for the neediest students.

Member Alan Panarese, who has been working on the medical front lines as a Respiratory Therapist for the entire pandemic, said it is possible to protect oneself from COVID-19 – even kids in school – but it requires strict adherence to safety protocols.

“Ninety percent is making sure to wear a mask and wash your hands and keep a distance,” he said. “The problem is some people don’t want to hear it. This is the 12th hour of me wearing a mask today. It’s part of my body now. We have to change. Right now we have to take these precautions. If the kids get used to it, they can do this.”

Tahiliani said one of the lessons they have learned so far when it comes to remote learning, e-Learning Centers and the push to hybrid education is it requires a need to be flexible and meet the needs of families – not vice versa.

“This has taught us mostly to be flexible, fluid and recognize the community needs,” she said.

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