On July 23, Superintendent Dan Gutekanst and School Committee Chair Andrea Longo Carter hosted a virtual open house to share survey results and current planning regarding the reopening of Needham schools amid the Covid-19 health crisis.
The meeting was held via Zoom, which hit its limit of 1,000 attendees, and was also both streamed online and broadcast on TV by the Needham Channel. The meeting was also recorded and is now available on the Needham Channel website.
Dr. Gutekanst started by presenting results from the July family survey, the purpose of which was to understand family concerns and get feedback on three proposed models (in-person, hybrid, remote)
2,945 families responded, a 51% response rate representing about 70% of students across all schools
Respondents represented students on IEPs, English language learners, economically disadvantaged, Boston-resident, and those with limited technology access
The majority of families indicated a preference for some form of in-person learning (79-91%, varying by school). In general, families with younger students (K-6) preferred full in-person, while those with older students preferred hybrid:
About 3% of families indicated their child will definitely need to stay home due to medical concerns, with an additional ~10% who might need to. Those students learning needs will be met.
29% of families plan to use the bus in the fall (out of a total of 46% who might typically use the bus)
16% of families indicated a need for after-school care, and NEDP is working on options
55% are hoping for afterschool sports and activities. MIAA announced teams might begin practices on 9/14 (as opposed to late August)
About half of students will buy school lunches either part or all of the time, though this might change since it’s likely to be box/bag lunches served in classrooms, not the usual hot lunch
Key concerns include: Safety concerns, handling of infections, cleaning buildings, curriculum and academic progress, social emotional development, better engagement in online learning, transportation, lunches, after school activities
1,600+ open ended comments which are being reviewed and passed on to the various task forces to consider
Dr. Gutekanst then provided an overview on the planning process and the three models as required by DESE. (A more detailed presentation was provided in at the 7/14 School Committee meeting.)
Reopening plans are being developed by Advisory Committee, Steering Committee, and five separate tasks forces, working in collaboration with NEA (Needham Education Association)
School will need to begin later — perhaps on 9/8, perhaps later
Guiding principles for planning: - Health & safety - Social-emotional and physical wellness - Equitable access - Curriculum adjustments - Supporting student and staff personal health - Supporting staff PD and training
Each of the three models has advantages and disadvantages:
Remote learning may need to be implemented at any point during the year
This school year will look different, regardless of model chosen
7/31 - preliminary planning will be submitted to DESE
8/4 - SC meeting to review models, adjust school calendar, and adopt one of the three models
8/10 - final plan submitted to DESE
Families with health needs requiring full remote learning will need to commit to a model
Schools open in September only if healthy and safe to do so
Dr. Gutekanst answered some questions that Ms. Longo Carter had received by email, and then participants were given the opportunity to ask questions. Key take-aways from the Q&A included:
Merits of Models
The full in-person model is problematic due to distancing requirements, which makes this model unlikely to be chosen.
Hybrid model allows for more space and flexibility in teaching, as well as one child per seat on the bus (still with masks, siblings sitting together)
The school year may be shorter than 180 days to allow for more planning and professional development for staff — time on learning will be different regardless of model.
Children will be split based on family for the Hybrid model.
In the Hybrid model, they are looking at having Wednesdays be remote for all children every week with live instruction in the mornings, allowing for teacher meetings/planning in the afternoon
Health and Safety
Health screenings are the responsibility of families — it is CRITICAL that students or staff who are not feeling well DO NOT come to school.
Families will be provided with a list of symptoms to check to each morning
There will not be temperature checks at school since evidence shows these are not that effective at detecting illness.
Teaching hygiene practice like handwashing and mask wearing now will help students when they return to school
The district will help parents source masks/PPE for children
There will be mask breaks for kids K-12, and younger students will have recess.
Schools cannot mandate quarantining prior to start of school, but district will encourage
Instruction and Curriculum
Attendance will be taken and students will be graded. The state has an attendance mandate the district must adhere to, but principals are trying to develop thoughtful, reasonable plans to accommodate family needs
Remote synchronous learning will be more consistent than last spring, and there will be minimum requirements for all teachers.
Video conferencing, live stream, and recorded classes are all being looked at, especially for older students
Children who miss school due to sickness should be able to access remotely
Hands on materials and activities are being looked at for remote days
They are looking into how to provide some music instruction — possibly singing with masks
Some students (special needs, ELL) may attend school every week — the remote learning in the spring did NOT work for certain students
The meeting concluded before all participants could ask their question, so any additional questions, comments or concerns should be emailed to the School Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next SC meeting will take place on Tuesday, 8/4, with exact time and meeting link still to be announced.