Focus on the Fall: Supt. Tahiliani on Dese’s Initial Back-to-school Guidance

Last Friday marked the release of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) “Initial Fall Reopening Guidance” for school districts. In the coming days, Everett Public Schools (EPS) will delve into every facet of the plan and determine how it specifically impacts the Everett Public Schools, and how to utilize it to the fullest benefit of students and educators. It is important to note that this is a preliminary report, and that a fuller framework will be announced in July. There are, however, essential considerations that EPS wanted to share with every member of our community.

First of all, the district said it applauded DESE for the detailed planning this report reflected. The conclusions and guidance contained in the report are data-driven and the result of input from health experts, education experts and community stakeholders.

DESE’s top priority is to have students safely return to school in person, adhering to a strict set of safety guidelines and practices that meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of each and every student.

“COVID-19 has starkly illustrated that there is no replacement for in-person instruction. Opening buildings is the primary focus,” said Supt. Tahiliani.

But this does not signal that students are guaranteed to return to school buildings in September, she said.

DESE is requiring districts to formally develop plans that account for three realities: 

•A return to school for in-person teaching and learning. 

•A combination of in-person and remote learning. 

•The continuation of an all-remote learning model.

This has been how the EPS has formed all of its decisions in recent weeks, and the district said it looked forward to sharing the plans with the community and DESE in August.

When they do return to school, health and safety precautions that have been in place in recent months will be modified and refined for school settings. These include:

•Masks/face coverings, physical distancing, handwashing, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces

•Masks/face coverings will be required for all students in Grade 2 and above and for all adults; they are recommended for students in Grade 1 and below.

•The establishment of a minimum physical distance of three feet.

“COVID-19 will continue to require patience and understanding,” she said. “This report is a vital first step in pointing us toward the fall, but questions and uncertainties persist. This is not intended to address every concern. It is far better to focus on what the report does say, rather than lament what it does not. We will continue to communicate with (families) throughout the summer as more information is made available at the state and local level.” The district asked that families and students pay close attention to the surveys that will be shared, which will provide invaluable feedback as they prepare for the 2020-2021 school year. 

EPS is prepared to immediately act on the exhaustive details of this initial report. Tahiliani said they are forming a Back-to-School Committee, which includes members who have the expertise to specifically address any and all facets of the plan, from health considerations to elemental logistical concerns.

“When this report landed in my inbox, I was filled with hope,” she said. “We might not be through this crisis, but there is no doubt that we are pushing ahead as a district, a community, and a Commonwealth. I take pleasure and pride in working with my colleagues on planning for the coming school year. We recognize the challenges brought on by Coronavirus, but we are undaunted. Our students need us. They need us under the ‘best’ of circumstances, and they especially need us now, at a time when national events require that we have genuine conversations about the most serious issues facing us. I look forward to sharing our plans at each and every step of the process.”

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