August 3, 2020

The Needham Channel

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School Committee Open House Q&A

Superintendent Dan Gutekanst and School Committee Chair Andrea Longo-Carter hosted a virtual Open House on Thursday, July 23rd, to share initial ideas about school reopening plans and respond to questions. Over 900 parents attended the zoom meeting.

Dr. Gutekanst announced at the meeting that school probably will not start on September 2nd as originally scheduled and will most likely begin after Labor Day (September 7th). The School Committee will meet on Tuesday, August 4th to review potential models and then the district will submit its final plan to the state by August 10th.

The administration is still working out many of the details regarding protocols, programming and schedules for each scenario. Below are some of the questions raised by parents and the answers from the meeting:



Q: What will social distancing be like on busses?
A: The hybrid model will allow the social distancing the state is requesting. It allows one student per seat, two across, with masks required. Siblings will sit together. We might be able to get a monitor on the bus so that the bus driver can focus on driving. The return-to-school-fully model requires either families deciding to not take bus transportation, which means more cars around schools, or purchasing over 20 new buses, which we’ll not be able to do because those buses just don’t exist.

Q: What is the health attestation or temperature check going to be like in school?
A: There has to be a compact between families and schools that we will only send healthy children to school and keep sick ones home. There will be some cooperation in the event that a child is not feeling well, and we are developing protocols for that. We are likely not going to have a form to submit every day, but what we will be asking is that each parent do a wellness check for your child every day before you drive them to school or before they come to the bus. That will include a temperature check, and we will provide a list of symptoms to look for. We are developing more illness guidelines. We did just get some new ones from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. There may be a more-than-24-hours-fever-free requirement. It may be 72 hours. But they all still need to be determined.

Q: What will the week at home be like in the hybrid model? How much interaction they will have with teachers?
A: There are going to be a few more meetings about this topic this week. We’ve had a conversation about how much live teaching is possible. Teachers can’t be teaching both groups at the same time, although the upper grades or sometimes the younger grades can use some video conferencing to create some experiences. In the hybrid model, Wednesday morning might be an opportunity for both groups to get together live with the teachers so that they can meet each other, develop relationships and spend time with teachers. We also want to make it developmentally appropriate. It will look different in elementary level than it will at the high school level.

Q: Are you considering having the teachers live-streaming their classes so that the two groups can have the same class at the same time?
A: Our high school teachers were doing some experimentations with live-streaming the other day. We are looking at, and trying to decide, what makes most sense. We are considering all options including live-streaming to see what will work. It may not work at every level. It may not work for every program.

Q: We saw a lot of inconsistencies in teaching in the spring where some teachers leaned more towards synchronous learning while others did more asynchronous learning. Will the schools develop a more consistent plan for the fall?
A: When the schools first switched to remote learning, there were some teachers who were better with technology and online platforms than others. Teachers are working very hard in the summer to learn more skills. The schools are also working on some minimums that teachers will need to follow for their students to have consistent experiences and be successful for the next grade.

Q: How will students be able to concentrate on learning and develop social skills if they need to wear masks for the entire day?
A: The school schedule will have mask breaks. We will do as much as we humanly can to make sure that students are engaged and socializing with one another while wearing masks. Whenever the schools start with in September, we will keep taking feedback from the community and readjust based on the science and experiences.

Q: Are we going to use grades?
A: Students will be graded in the fall. They will be assessed, and in addition we will be taking attendance. Those are the details we need to work out. But it will be different than what we’ve done in the spring. There will be a different level of accountability.

Q: How will the disinfection in the schools be done?
A: We are working on different protocols with the town’s maintenance department for how we will disinfect frequently-touched surfaces, like door handles and bathrooms.

If you have more questions, you can email them to schoolcommittee@needham.k12.ma.us

Click here to watch the entire Open House meeting.