With more than 65 percent of K-5 families so far saying they would like students to return to school five days a week, Everett Public Schools is continuing to mobilize their re-opening plan for April and are expanding the plan to include dates for re-opening to Middle School and High School students.
With guidance from the state Department of Early and Secondary Education (DESE) coming down last week about getting middle school students back in-person five days a week, Supt. Priya Tahiliani told the School Committee on Monday they will begin to develop a plan to return middle schoolers no later than April 28. On top of that, though there is not yet any guidance from the state on high school returns, she said the EPS would like to go ahead with plans to return high school students as well.
“The latest news from the state address middle school and DESE would like us to start no later than April 28,” said Tahiliani. “Like K-5, the opening for middle school would be full-time and five days per week. I do believe we’re in a strong position to get them back to school. All of our buildings will be open already. That will give us a chance to assess and make changes before we return our middle school learners back.”
And instead of waiting for the state to make an announcement on high school return, which is expected in April, Tahiliani urged the Committee to assist her team in making plans ahead of time for high school return.
She said DESE has indicated they would give two-week’s notice before requiring a high school return, and that would be some time in April. Tahiliani said it only makes sense to make the move now.
“We, however, would like to make return plans (for high school) that supports our community needs,” said Tahiliani. “Instead of waiting for DESE guidance, we will be working with the ETA to solidify that date (for opening) sooner rather than later.”
Tahiliani also shared a survey with the Committee that included 1,711 families of students in grades K-5 regarding the re-opening. The survey was as of Monday and there were still 1,167 families that hadn’t yet responded. The preliminary data, however, showed that families of students in K-5 were very interested in getting their kids in-person for five days a week.
Some 66 percent of respondents (1,132) said they wanted to send their students back five days a week, while 34 percent said they would remain remote. Families do have the option to remain remote throughout the end of the year without penalty. DESE guidance is only for entire school districts, and doesn’t apply to families that have chosen to opt-out of in-person learning for the year.
“We’re not very surprised by these numbers,” said Tahiliani. “We saw similar numbers when we were surveying for hybrid learning.”
The numbers for non-English speakers was higher for Portuguese and Haitian Kreyol speakers.
For English speakers, some 64 percent favored in-person learning, while 36 percent wanted to remain remote. For Spanish speakers, it was similar, with 63 preferring in-person and 37 percent staying remote. Meanwhile, Portuguese speakers wanted in-person by 77 percent, and remote for 23 percent. Haitian Kreyol favored in-person 85 percent to 15 percent remote.
Also, 63 percent of all surveyed said they would have their students participate in the voluntary COVID testing program if they went to in-person classes.
The plan for students in grades K-5 has been cemented over the past two weeks, with the drama over returning to school buildings lessening when teachers were allowed to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
As of now, all staff are to report to their buildings by March 22 unless they have taken a medical waiver. Special Education classes would start March 29, and K-5 students would be afforded the opportunity to return five days per week to in-person learning on April 5.
That would require the e-Learning Centers to be closed down, and Tahiliani said that would occur on April 1.
EPS does plan to use the three-foot social distancing metric, rather than the six-foot distancing metric that was included in the original re-opening plan.
Tahiliani said there is evidence from across the country, and several physicians have signed on to a letter, showing that three-feet of distancing is no more detrimental to six feet. That shorter distance allows more students to be accommodated in the schools, and it is expected it will be needed given the surveys. Due to the distancing requirements, schools might have trouble fitting in all the students that want to come back in April.
• Didn’t like the Comments
Former EPS teacher Patrick Dailey appeared on the Public Speaking portion of the meeting and said he was concerned about comments from Supt. Priya Tahiliani at the March 1 meeting indicating that the student population was heavily majority minority, and the large numbers of teachers opposing the re-opening plan at that time were overwhelmingly white.
He said in her comments, he felt like she was saying teachers in Everett aren’t speaking up for their students.
“To the viewing audience, it appeared that the comments were made to mean the teachers in the city don’t advocate for the children,” he said.
“The hallmark of Everett was that kids got what they needed,” he said. “It seemed so out of place in the re-opening plan the superintendent had been promoting…It insinuated that teachers aren’t advocating for kids. That is not the mission of our district and not what our people do.”
Tahiliani did not address his comments in her update.
• New Student Rep
Everett High Sophomore Dyna Louis joined the School Committee as the new Student Representative on Monday for the first time.
Chair Frank Parker has been an advocate for the Student Rep program, and was instrumental in bringing it back in 2019 and 2020. With the formalities out of the way, Louis was chosen to fill the seat.
Louis said she was excited to join, and said she plans to “advocate for the unseen.”
• Registration Time Coming Up
The EPS will begin registration for the next school year in May and June, Tahiliani said.
Registrations can be made at the Parent Information Center at the Keverian School, or online as well.
Registration for Pre-K3, Pre-K4, kindergarten and 1st grade will start on May 3. Meanwhile, registration for grades 2-12 will start on June 1. She said it isn’t necessary to wait until August to register students and encouraged parents to register early.