The Everett Public School leadership team and the Everett Teachers Association (ETA) are meeting this week to discuss timelines and details of a potential return to a hybrid in-person education model as soon as February, said Supt. Priya Tahiliani.
Tahiliani announced the framework of a plan at the School Committee meeting on Jan. 4, but said the rumors around the City about specific dates to return are premature. She said she has met with the leadership of the ETA already a few times, and on Tuesday was set to meet with the ETA leadership and two ETA subcommittees about the details of the plan.
“Right now we really are just in the planning process,” she said. “We’re also about to send out a survey to families to pick a cohort for hybrid. We have heard from other districts it’s better to try to give a preference if you can. We have the benefit of hearing from other districts in hybrid about what they would do differently and giving a preference is one thing.”
The probing question, however, that will be on that survey is whether or not families want to go into a hybrid situation. It’s a delicate question, and all families will still be able to choose a fully remote option if they so choose. There are heightened opinions on both sides of the coin, and some are eager to get kids back into a building, while others won’t even entertain the idea until there are widespread, successful vaccinations.
“Anyone can opt out and go full remote if they choose,” she said. “We want to get an idea of how many families will choose remote. We know our positivity rates are really going up. The vaccination availability now is a game-changer, but we need to hear from the community.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin spoke at a recent School Committee meeting about not returning the kids to a hybrid model, and said this week he thinks it is too hasty.
“I spoke with nearly 200 individuals over the weekend about this matter, many of them are strongly against talks of hybrid learning until numbers decrease and the vaccine is made able for teachers and staff,” he said. “I think as the Superintendent stated herself several times we need to go by science and see the numbers significantly down for several weeks before moving forward. However, we should be talking about how else we can support children and families over remote learning during this winter.”
The biggest challenge at the moment, said Tahiliani, is finding out just how families feel about it. The COVID pandemic has been so personal in Everett that no single group of people or ethnicity has a unified opinion. In fact, it seems to hover around personal experience, and Tahiliani said that can change by the day.
“I think that’s very true,” she said. “I think that’s what makes this even more difficult because we can’t plan on one central challenge that a similar group of families is dealing with. It really is about everyone’s own experience with COVID-19 and how it touched their family and friends lives. How can we blame them? Sometimes it’s not even changing family by family, but opinions seem to change day by day and week to week.”
A key challenge to implementing a hybrid model will be stops and starts. She said many similar districts that were in the yellow and moved to a ‘red’ risk level like Everett kept kids in school. There were many times they were in the clear, and other times they had to shut down for a time.
“I honestly worry about the return and how sustainable it is because we see other districts that have gone back and had to stop and roll back their plans,” she said. “On the other hand, we have to try…I think right now the vaccine becoming available and educators being priorities in stage 2 – that makes all of this a different conversation.”
More details are expected at the next School Committee meeting later this month.