Friday, August 14, 2020

On the Worcester reopening plan

 I had rather a lot to say and ask last night about our plan. Some of that was captured in Scott O'Connell's coverage; here are the notes I was speaking from (I don't usually write things out in this level of detail, but I thought it was warranted). You'll note that not everything here is what I said.

from my notes

I want to start by saying publicly how much I appreciate the degree to which the School Committee has been looped in periodically (in non quorum groups) to get periodic updates and give feedback. I know of communities in which essentially no one knew anything until the plan was being presented; that is not the case here, and I think the plan is better for it, but also the governance is better for it. Overall, I support what is being proposed here, and that is in part because I feel as though I understand the basis on which decisions were made.
I also think that one of the best things we have done during this term is spend time listening to people. It is an accident of time that the SOA public meetings and the pandemic happened during the same year, and while that is tragic in many ways, it means that we have spent hours and hours as a committee in public session listening. There isn’t always a lot of that. There has been this year.

We, as a local government, be remiss to vote this evening without noting in the strongest possible terms: we have been let down by every other branch of the government.

We could talk at length, and many have, of the abject failure of this federal administration to do what needed to be done to open schools safely. People and local governments did their parts: we shut schools, we stayed home, we masked up. And, despite the best efforts of our own delegation, we do not have the massive testing and tracing needed, and we do not have the supported needed for our schools and for our families. The latest CARES Act fell apart last week, and we are $14M poorer than we were a month ago. And the coronavirus continues to spread, continues to kill people, and grows stronger every week.
And thus we are faced with impossible decisions, in which real harm will be done by every choice we make. That has been passed down to us by lack of leadership of every kind elsewhere.

Not enough has been said about the ways in which the state has let us down, as well. Yes, Massachusetts has done better than many on dealing with the virus, but that is a sliding scale. When it comes to schools, we have never recovered from the state that left it to every single district to call school off before the Governor acted. We saw the same leadership in action this week, when two days before an already-extended deadline, the Executive branch took a single metric, put it on a state map, and tried to use it to pressure committees to send everyone back into buildings. That is an abuse of their authority, and we are overdue to call it what it is. This after the Department’s guidance has been incomplete, misleading, and frequently unhelpful. I would ask, Mr. Chair, if some of that fire your office brought to the letter to Spectrum could be brought to a letter to our state delegation from this Committee, and note the many many ways in which the Executive branch has let us down during the pandemic. From an education perspective, Massachusetts has not been a leader during this pandemic.

I would also make a motion that we call on the state to have ongoing, easily accessible free testing with a quick turnaround operating across the state before any district brings students into session. I would further ask that we share that request with our fellow Committees and ask them to join us in that call to action.

And so to the plan, which, as I said, overall, I support.
I turn first to page 32 and the three overarching priorities there expressed: parity and interdependence of physical and emotional safety; equity and racial justice; and collective care.
This is a great focus. This is where our message, particularly our message to families, should BEGIN, though. This caring, this equity and justice focus, needs to be where the letter to families start, and it should be threaded through the document, as an indication that it will be threaded through the work that follows. We should not bury this only in the Student Supports section, but should elevate this to front of our message, and should test all else were doing against this standard, much as our SOA plan puts “equity at the forefront of our decision making.” I would ask that we shift our letter and language to families to reflect that.

p. 2 The letter speaks of the Parabola Project; what has happened with them?

p. 3 and following: throughout the document we speak very definitively of “after first quarter” and “November” It seems clear to me, however, that our timeframe is not nearly that definite. Am I correct?
I would move, Mr. Chair, that we add language “at the earliest” or the like throughout (and I can send that to administration if they like) so we are very clear with our students, families, and staff as to what we actually expect here.

p. 4 I understand why the paragraph regarding preparation of school buildings was included, but I would suggest that it be stricken; what families need reassurance about now is the work that has been done this spring, summer, and early fall to prepare teachers for remote learning. We have work to do and trust to regain on that, and families need to know what has changed since May.

p. 5 Was city health data part of the decision process?

Mr. Chair, we need a matrix by which we will make decisions regarding children returning. The buildings alone should not determine this. My understanding is that there have been meetings with our Board of Health; I would propose that we have discussions with them, and review the models of other districts to have one to determine paths forward from November.

p. 8 and the attendance description here is a problem. There are going to be families whose child cannot be on a machine at 8:30 every day. There are children who have to go to daycare, and those daycares have already said that they will not oversee instruction. There are going to be power outages. There are going to be days when the internet fails. We cannot hold families and children accountable for failures of Spectrum, Eversource, the weather, and lacks in childcare. We are in danger of creating a host of dropouts because of our own inflexibility.
I understand the stress on synchronous learning; I also know that it continues to be deeply inequitable. If we feel that we are as a district unable to provide students space and oversight for that—which is something other districts are doing—then we need to give ground for families and undependable utilities here. I would suggest that a student not joining synchronous learning is checked in with; if contact is made and work is submitted within 24 hours, that student is marked present. This is a policy matter.
Also, we shouldn’t be reporting families to DCF.

p. 9  bottom What does the last bullet mean?

p. 10 could a student be determined to need less than 4 days in person?

The schedules need more movement, more breaks, more space.

p. 17 7:20 is too early. Our partners created their programs around a high school schedule. That schedule should adjust to students, not to partners.

p. 20 What does the family engagement to English learner parents look like? Who is involved? On what partnership are we drawing?


Mr. Chair, I would want updated plans before we decide to send students back into buildings again.

p. 24 In Transportation, I believe we want to give this the force of procedure rather than guidance

p. 26 We need more specifics here about bathrooms, sinks, soap, and access. Hand sanitizer and handwashing are not equivalent. Students should be washing their hands AT LEAST before and after lunch (or any eating), but more frequently as needed. This should be written into this.

p. 28: is unworkable. How many days until a teacher is out of sick time and a student is considered truant? This is why, without greater testing, faster turnaround, and contact tracing, we cannot do this.

p. 32 tracking family engagement and check in staff; we need consistency across the district on this. We had families that never heard from anyone, and families that heard from people three times a day. Every student needs a person, and that’s it.

p.33 This long description of BCBA’s seems not necessary to what is being provided here.

p. 36 Families need an easy dependable way to contact their schools. This is hard now, especially with offices closed. Each family should get a school letter that specifies where to find information, who people are, and how to reach them.

p. 37 Community organizations say we don’t work well with them. In digital learning, much is assumed here of family familiarity with the technology. We know we have families that will struggle to get their students onto Google Meet. We have been offered community support and tutoring; we should take folks up on it. We need everyone on board here.

p. 38 How are clubs and band and all working?

p. 40 This should flow from page 32, and does not enough. Teachers are a GUEST in student’s home, and we must remember that and THEY must remember that. It should be stressed here that students are in their OWN homes, not in a classroom. Teachers are the interlopers. Thus students may absolutely turn their cameras off. They may have a drink. They may use the bathroom. They may dress for whatever their home calls for.
p. 41 Parameters on assignments must be allowed. We cannot have the same levels of homework we usually would have; to have a child spend five hours on a computer and then at 3 need to spend five or more hours again, as in high school, is cruel. Time outside of class MUST be prioritized for students to get outside, to get active (something which is not mentioned in the document) and take care of what is needed in their households.
I will also freely confess that I have no idea how to check my children’s assignments.

p. 44 Can all such assessments be conducted remotely?

p. 46 Training should include public health and nursing professionals. I do not see that included.
I do not see a training regarding the very different states in which children may be in now included.

p. 49 How many of our families now have internet access?
How many of our students now have devices?
What is the impact of 25,000 students jumping on the internet on Sept. 15 going to be?
I would propose that the administration please next week have at their own homes, three people join different video calls at the same time, and see what that does to the internet. I would ask that this be done BEFORE more planning happens. Families are going to need more bandwidth that we are giving them and than they are supplied.

p. 52  On videoconferencing: it is crucial that families and students know they can choose to have the camera off, and that teachers have stressed to them that this is a STUDENT not a teacher choice for which the student may not be penalized. I would make a motion that we collaborate with our student members to jointly produce a remote learning common rules and rights before school begins.

p. 52 May families request an alternative packet? Or is that an editing error

Video cued to when I started speaking after the jump

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