The Everett School Committee voted 7-2 to move forward with negotiations with the Everett Teachers Association (ETA) and form a plan that would bring willing families back to school throughout the month of March.
Any new plan will only be in effect after an extensive negotiation with teachers that is happening this week, and a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details every facet of the return plan.
Voting against the plan – which would bring teachers back before vaccination on March 8 and then slowly roll children into hybrid models on March 15 – were Members Allan Panarese and Millie Cardello. Both preferred a plan that would have waited until at least the first vaccination shot to begin going back to hybrid.
“I do believe it would be helpful if the teachers were to get their first shot because after a few weeks with the first shot, you’re 95 percent protected and that just gives those who don’t get it some protections,” said Panarese, who has worked on the COVID frontlines as a Respiratory Therapist. “I’m sorry, but what I’ve seen (at the hospital), I think they should get the first shot and then after a few weeks they’ll be protected.”
School Committeeman Marcony Almeida Barros said he understood the concerns, but has heard too many horror stories about kids getting lost in remote schooling or being home alone and isolated.
“I’m hopeful and I believe by approving a plan, with the vaccine and other things happening now…that we’re going to be able to move forward with this tiered re-entry plan,” he said. “We have all heard the same thing from different parents that they are desperate and want their kids back in school.”
Chair Frank Parker pointed out that under the plan, kids would enter in a phased approach. That would mean on March 15, special education students would return in the hybrid format. On March 22 it would be K-2nd grade, then on March 29 it would be 3rd to 5th grades. Then there would be a re-assessment and consideration of the older students’ return schedule.
“That’s two months and that means two months of vaccine distribution and the next phase of people – greater availability and a more secure and efficient pipeline,” he said. “There are things like that to take into account over the next eight weeks as the plan goes on.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria, facing one of his toughest votes since coming on as a voting member in January, said it’s hard to know who to believe, but he felt the damage to children outweighed the need for a vaccine – particularly after guidance by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last week suggesting vaccines weren’t necessary prior to returning to school.
“It’s a serious situation,” he said. “It’s a hard decision. I support going forward with a hybrid vote and the sooner the better. I know some teachers will be upset with me but I hope they’re not…It was easy to decide to shut down schools, but to get them back open is so difficult.”
The plan was outlined at the Feb. 16 meeting in an extensive presentation from Supt. Priya Tahiliani where she outlined three options for going to a hybrid model – noting that any parent or student who wishes to remain remote the rest of the year will be able to do that.
Tahiliani discussed at length the recent guidance given by the CDC that informs districts that vaccination isn’t a necessary precursor for teachers and student returning to school – noting that the science points to schools not being a spreading environment if mitigation measures like testing and air quality checks are in place.
Second, she said some recent standardized tests given to students show that there is some regression in terms of academic progress caused by remote learning.
“We are starting to see the first tangible results of the limits of remote learning on academics,” she said.
Those test results on the iReady tests showed that the numbers of students one grade level or two grade levels behind was growing from last year’s results on the same test. Almost 30 percent of students are regressing on math, and some 25 percent on reading scores.
That has also been combined with about 60 percent of parents who are willing to send their kids back to a hybrid model of education this month. That was particularly true in communities of color within the city, as well as those whose first language is not English.
The third option presented gave no dates and would only commence a return after both vaccination were administered to teachers. Under that plan, it’s likely students would be going back in late April or May, and upper grades probably wouldn’t return at all due to the time element.
The second option would be to wait until teachers get their first dose of the vaccine and then begin the tiered return, which would be sometime in April.
The first plan, which was approved, called for teachers to return to buildings on March 8, begin preparations for students at that time, and then start to welcome students on March 15 in a tiered approach that would bring more students in each week. The plan would start with special education students on March 15 and roll out elementary grades thereafter from youngest to oldest. The middle schools and high schools are not yet within the rollout plan, and would be assessed after the first two phases.
Tahiliani said she endorsed Plan 1, which is aggressive and quick, but something she said needs to be done to serve the students and families in EPS.
“The patience and understanding of our families has been beyond generous and this includes families that have long-been ready for in-person learning,” she said. “I do unquestionably believe the time is right to put our hybrid plan to work for students that want it…I do believe Plan 1 adheres to our unyielding attempts to do what is best for our students and families.”
School Committeewoman Dana Murray gave a heart-felt speech on the matter, saying it is time for Everett to trust Everett.
“I think there’s been too much division and too much not assuming best intentions for all parties involved and we have to get away from that,” she said. “We have to be one again. We have to be Everett’s best.”
Districts around Everett are a mixed bag on their return.
Chelsea has indicated it will remain remote as a district this entire year, while Revere voted on Monday night to move into a hybrid education model also on the same timeline as Everett. Meanwhile, Boston Public Schools will begin returning K-3rd grade students this Monday, March 1, and they have already had many special education students in buildings.
School Committee, ETA Beings Work on Hybrid Return Negotiations
A School Committee sub-committee on negotiations began working in executive session with the Everett Teacher’s Association (ETA) this week to try to hammer out a detailed return plan that Supt. Priya Tahiliani can present to the Committee soon.
School Committeewoman Samantha Lambert is leading that Committee, and will be working with ETA leadership, including President Kim Auger. There are many different variables, including new announcements from the state this week, among other things.
The Committee will work to craft a plan that will move towards implementing the plan authorized on Feb. 16 for a March return to hybrid learning for families that choose such a plan. That would be finalized in a signed MOU that the Committee would vote on in the coming weeks.
Auger said there is so much up in the air right now, and that they still favor educators getting both vaccines before coming back to school.
“The Association is still working towards all educators having two vaccines and the city being under a 5 percent positivity rate,” she said. “We appreciate we are still having these conversations and a combined effort for a safe, tiered re-entry plan.”