WILMINGTON — Last Wednesday’s School Committee meeting mostly consisted of information regarding the fall 2020 Reopening Advisory Committee, starting in public comments before the presentations from the eight advisory groups.
The first commenter asked that the advisory groups consider the disparities that exist in town, particularly in terms of equity for families, in the fall reopening plan.
The next shared significant concerns about leadership at the middle school knowing that Mr. Philips won’t be returning.
“The community has the right to better understand the plan for this coming year… if a new principal search will be conducted.”
This resident added that communication timeliness in the spring was lacking and needs to be a priority going forward.
Residents continued to express dissatisfaction with this past spring’s remote learning model.
“There are hundreds of other families about to be forced into an impossible situation,” one commenter said.
She also shared a hope that high-need students will be prioritized for in-person learning even if the rest of the school district is under a hybrid approach.
Other questions that residents asked were if siblings and twins will be allowed to attend class on the same schedules in a hybrid approach, and if remote learning content can be consistent.
One speaker asked, “if the School Committee can’t meet in person, why do you feel like our children can?”
Since the committee doesn’t respond to public comments, they moved right into the DESE fall 2020 guidance updates from Dr. Glenn Brand after the last public comment was read.
Dr. Brand explained the guidance from the state requires the district to pursue three learning models: in person, hybrid, and remote only. He discussed the importance of considering high-needs and special education students, a feasibility study to consider whether students can sit six feet apart, and robust remote learning.
Examples of six-feet-apart-seating were bleak, highlighting the limited number of desks and cafeteria seats that can be used at a time. Among the necessary requirements in terms of essential safety will be masks required on the bus and scheduled mask breaks during the school day.
Before introducing the reopening advisory groups, Dr. Brand reminded everyone of some of the preferences revealed in the family and staff surveys. The results said that as many as 28 percent of parents said they wouldn’t send their children to school if it’s only in-person, and 30 percent said they weren’t sure in the case of a hybrid format.
The staff survey brought up issues of their own childcare and health conditions along with concerns about being able to follow cleaning and safety guidelines.
The superintendent shared that a hybrid approach is the most likely format for fall learning for many reasons, particularly because it’s the only one where six feet apart seating works. School Committee member M.J. Byrnes agreed, adding that hybrid learning will allow students’ remote learning skills to be built upon.
Next came all eight reopening advisory group presentations one by one. Kevin Welch spoke for the Facilities and Cleaning Up group to establish how they’re considering what is necessary for appropriate spacing in classrooms and offices. They’re recommending what kind of things would need to be cleaned, how often, and with what products.
Doreen Crowe shared for the Health and Food Services Group a plan for all kinds of illness monitoring and responses to outbreaks in addition to a list of things for families to do in preparation for school in the fall.
Then, Christine McMenimen explained that the Building Scheduling and Operations group has determined that teachers can’t be doing remote and in-person teaching at the same time. The hybrid cohort types in consideration by this group are A/B days and a.m./p.m. They’ve also been preparing protocols for safety in building access, transportation, and arrival and dismissal.
Jonathan Merenda said that the Extracurricular and Co-curricular Activities group is planning for clubs, performing arts, athletics, CARES, and field trips. Christine Murray shared that the Social Emotional Support group will recommend planned social/emotional time during the school day and support for staff and students as they get back to school.
Linda Peters, speaking for the Teaching and Learning group, said that curriculum planning is dependent upon team leaders. However, the group has been focusing on safety, attendance, communication, and assessment by a normal school year’s expectations.
Charlotte King of the Access and Equity group explained that it’s necessary to figure out individualized family needs and obstacles. Some considerations they may have include pre-recorded lessons, virtual IEP meetings, and high needs students learning in-person.
Ken Lord said the Technology plan includes adding plenty of chromebooks and devices for students, staff, and educational assistants. The district is also going to transition remote learning from Zoom to Google Meet and offer support for parents and staff to know how to use the necessary remote learning tools.
The School Committee’s initial questions related to the possibility of students getting sick. David Ragsdale asked how the importance of keeping sick kids home will be addressed, and Jay Samaha wondered how a positive case will affect the rest of the cohort and the schedule.
Dr. Brand answered that substitutes and positive cases are on the list of things to be planned. Ragsdale and Samaha also asked about internet access and chromebooks for families that might not be able to afford their own, and Lord responded to these concerns.
After establishing that at this point the district doesn’t see anything encroaching upon the planned operating budget, Dr. Brand ended by ensuring everyone that the reopening plan will account for continuous learning and adjusting. It’s the reopening advisory committee’s desire to create a robust system of learning to meet students’ needs in the fall.
Jenn Bryson added the full presentation can be viewed online on the school’s website and thanked the entire committee for their hard work and commitment.
The final reopening plan is due to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Aug. 10 and will come before the School Committee again in the beginning of August at their next meeting.