Boston Public Schools

Boston Public Schools Plans to Delay Start of Classes Until Sept. 21

Meanwhile, Worcester, Salem, Brookline and Lawrence public school students learned Thursday they will start remotely; Boston's hasn't announced a decision on whether students will start the year in class

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Boston Public Schools is planning to move back the start date of its school year to Sept. 21, but has not made a decision on whether class will be in session or not until they submit plan on Friday.

The plan, discussed at a City Council Committee on Education meeting Wednesday night, comes ahead of Friday's deadline for school districts' reopening plans to be submitted to the state.

Sept. 21 is not currently listed as the start of school on Boston Public Schools' online calendar. Sept. 10 had been the planned start date for schools.

Educations from all around Boston held a rally Thursday evening at City Hall as they continued urging city leaders to start the school year remotely to keep teachers, students and families safe.

There were dozens of teachers rallying for a remote start to the school year, including Becca Maclean, who said, "we should not be trying to go into the school buildings at this point in time. We simply are not prepared."

The group is also calling for more personal protective equipment, safer building set ups, and other precautions to protect against COVID-19.

"For example my school's air quality is coded as poor. I have colleagues that teach in windowless classroom. We do not have soap in the bathrooms ever and we do not have drinkable water," Maclean said.

The rally came as Boston schools announced plans to delay the start until Sept. 21 after educators requested more time for careful planning.

"It’s only a couple weeks away! It’s mid August," teacher Chelsea Hammond said.

If school officials bring students back into buildings, the plan is on a part-time basis, but educators say that should be done slowly.

"Whenever we return it needs to be phased in," Maclean said. "We need to bring the teachers in first. We need to have professional development and then we need to bring students slowly into the building starting with the students who have high needs."

Mayor Marty Walsh and Boston's superintendent have said that multiple factors including infection rates will shape decisions over time.

"The great news is that we have meetings set for every day between now and next Wednesday so we’re hopeful that it will come together," said Erik Berg, the executive VP of the Boston Teachers Union.

Teachers maintain: it's better to be safe than sorry.

"My students will not be their lab rats," Hammond said. "They can't test whether this is safe on our students."

The start of the school year has been a fraught issue in Massachusetts as the coronavirus pandemic prompts debates over whether it's safe to do so.

On Thursday, the Worcester and Brookline school committees approved an all-remote start to the year, while the Salem and Lawrence school systems announced they it would do the same.

"We don't know where its going to go over the next few weeks," Salem Schools Superintendent Steve Zrike said of the city being in red on the latest Massachusetts map tracking COVID-19 cases. "It could certainly shift but we thought that it was prudent given that we were in red now and we have to make a decision right now that we would take the safer approach."

Carly Dwyer-Naik says if the numbers are just coming up, "now is the time to call it. Don't wait."

While officials were hoping to get the little ones into the classroom, the Salem school year will start at home.

"I'm really disappointed because the school board worked so hard to get K-3 kids into classrooms which I thought was a great plan," said Sarah Chasse, who echoes the sentiments of many parents and, like them, understands the need to be safe.

"I think its a tough decision because families whose parents need space to work and need to send their kids somewhere... that aspect is really tough but I think its safety first," Dennis Shafer said.

Most agree in-school is better for kids learning and parents working.

"I have to navigate the fact that I have employees that I'm going to be asking a little more of because I'm going to be schooling as a parent," Dwyer-Naik said.

"I think he's best at school learning there especially as he's learning to read. Its such an important age for them to be in school learning from teachers directly and then my husband and I are working at home so its very hard to manage," Chasse said of her situation.

There is a break built into the school schedule right around Halloween. Salem school officials will reassess at that time, but that's the height of the tourist season in Salem, so there is not much optimism the number of cases will drop.

In Worcester, school committee members approved the fall school plan unanimously. The first quarter will be entirely remote learning, including for those with disabilities.

Parents heard the news Thursday that Worcester school committee members unanimously approved the fall school plan, which means there will be remote learning for all students during the first quarter, including those with disabilities.

“I’m kind of angry," parent Vanessa Morris said. "She was supposed to start kindergarten this year, she was very excited to go back to school and now I told her she couldn’t go to school. She was kind of crying about it yesterday so I think it’s kind of dumb actually.” 

Hybrid learning is tentatively planned as an option beginning in quarter 2 in the winter. 

Worcester's superintendent who voiced her support for the plan in the virtual meeting says she feels this is a very strong plan.

The district says right now they‘re prioritizing $15 million in upgrades to the HVAC systems at the schools. After that, Worcester school officials say they would like to get group C -- the kids that need the most instructional support -- back in schools for in-person learning for quarter 2. 

"I want him to have that relationship with children, and teachers and go back to school but at the same time with everything that’s going on, it’s scary,” parent Alexa Carlo said. 

Under the plan, teachers don’t have to go to the school building; they can choose to teach from home. 

Mom teaching him a class is nothing like a teacher,” Carlo said. "He was telling me everything I was doing wrong.” 

“The younger kids I think they should bring them back, at least kindergarten through like third grade maybe,” Morris said. 

Worcester says they have enough chrome books for all of the students when the school year begins on Sept. 15.

But many parents across the state are hoping that their kids can go to schools, as it's proven difficult to juggle child care and work effectively amid the pandemic.

At the announcement of new, community-specific coronavirus data, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said that many communities meet most benchmarks for at least a hybrid model of in-person learning.

Gov. Charlie Baker has urged schools in communities where the risk of the coronavirus spreading, determined by the number of recent cases per capita, is low to hold school in person. Boston's risk is moderate, according to figures released Wednesday from the Department of Public Health.

But others warn that it's not clear how sending kids back to school will affect the spread of the virus, which has been largely under control in Massachusetts since late spring. Israel, for example, saw a new wave of cases after reopening its schools, along with bars and event venues, starting this May.

“Do you really want to send these children into school who may be asymptomatic or have the virus transmitted to them while they are there? Many of the caretakers of our children are grandparents,” Rev. Miniard Culpepper, who leads the Covid-19 Clergy Coalition, told The Boston Globe.

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