BURLINGTON - School officials have been tasked with creating guiding principles for the district to follow when it comes to making decisions for the upcoming school year.

In all likelihood, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere until a vaccine hits the market, which isn’t expected until at least early 2021. This means that the start of the 2020-21 school year is going to look a lot different than it has any other year, with more safety guidelines than ever before.

Because of this, School Supt. Dr. Eric Conti is asking the School Committee to help him craft guiding principles to assist in making the “new normal” process a bit more manageable.

“We are not going to solve the problem at today’s meeting. When we have had challenging decisions to make, such as redistricting four elementary schools after building the new Memorial School and changing the start-time of school, I think what helped keep those conversations grounded was the School Committee not jumping right into solutions, but rather creating guiding principles,” Dr. Conti advised. “I want to make sure the committee has time to figure out what those guiding principles are because when we jump right into solutions, conversations become much more reactive.”

He added that these principles will have to provide the “best” atmosphere and opportunities for the district’s 3,500-plus students.

“Everybody will be advocating for their child, as they should,” professed Dr. Conti. “But the plan is about making the best plan for all kids.”

Dr. Conti rehashed some recent examples of guiding principle measures ratified by the School Committee, including formally deciding to pay staff from March 13 (the day school closed) through the end of the school year and making sure every child has a seat on the bus.

Though the prerogative is to let the committee analyze and amass feedback on the guiding principles, Dr. Conti did brief the members on several of his draft principles.

- Survey parents on who will use bus transportation. The district is going to have to change its philosophy on transportation, resulting in some students walking to school when they would normally take the bus. Some tentative guidelines for school busing in a COVID-19 world have been disclosed from the Center of Disease and Control Prevention (CDC). For school buses right now, the CDC is calling for one child per seat in every other row and the requirement of taking the temperatures of students before they enter the school bus. Young students may have to wear masks on the bus, but not in class.

- Who does the district pay when the school year starts?

- The district will be following the safety recommendations by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

- Prioritizing the social-emotional needs of students.

The eventual guiding principles will be derived from the parameters put forth by the state. The first wave of the state’s guidelines for school in the fall were released last Thursday, so Burlington school officials will be busy exploring that vital information. The objective will be to put together more appropriate guiding principles that are aligned with the Commonwealth’s standards.

The School Committee is very-much in favor of the initiative to move forward with guiding principles for the 2020-21 school year, but they prefer waiting until their next meeting on July 21 to formalize them.

“I think they are very well thought out,” professed School Committee Chair Christine Monaco. “We will have more in-depth discussions at our next meeting.”

School Committee member Thomas Murphy is hoping the state guidelines lead the way in this effort.

“It is easier to address [guiding principles] contextually than philosophically,” voiced Murphy.

The committee will being crafting their guiding principles for the 2020-21 school year in the next month, so expect a thorough update on the matter at their next meeting on July 21.

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