WILMINGTON — Per an email from Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand last week, the School Committee dealt with updates as a result of extending the remote learning model in their meeting on Tuesday night. The change from aiming to transition to hybrid in the end of September to the middle of October, he explained at the meeting, was due to issues of staffing, air quality, and ongoing negotiations with the Wilmington Teachers’ Association.
Dr. Brand said the largest factor requiring extended remote learning was the possibility of a number of staff who might have chosen to take 12 weeks or even an entire year of leave as soon as the hybrid model started. This was in part because the union’s negotiation was only agreed upon right before Labor Day weekend, which meant that staff had only a short period of time to indicate if they had plans to take any leave.
“It became clear that the hybrid model would not have sufficient staff to receive students,” he said.
With more teachers requesting remote positions than number of remote positions available, he worried that all of the 27 staff members who weren’t given remote positions would have to take a leave of absence and be allowed to do so under new federal regulations.
This issue combined with the HVAC study indicating that almost every school in town was recommended for portable air purifiers and ongoing negotiations with the WTA, Dr. Brand reasoned, led to shifting from the hybrid model to which they were previously committed.
However, he said that it’s still the district’s desire to transition to hybrid, which is why they’re using the cohort system and they would explore options to open by school from the lowest grades up.
The district’s goals, he said, are still to best meet student’s health, safety, and social and emotional needs and to remain flexible, adaptable, and resilient in terms of planning. The superintendent reiterated that 140 “high needs” students who are English learners, economically disadvantaged, homeless or in foster care, and have disabilities will have in-person learning at the high school in all grades.
For good measure, Brand shared a short list of nearby school districts also starting remote, including but not limited to Reading, Methuen, Lynnfield, Salem, Lynn, Framingham, Watertown, Dedham, and Masconomet. He also expected an update on Wilmington’s classification on the governor’s color-coded metric for COVID-19 cases with a recent uptake in positive cases in town.
He was excited to add that CARES will have coverage starting in the end of September for two “pods” per grade level with limited adult supervision.
The School Committee members gave credit to the work of teachers and everyone involved in the school reopening committee. Jo Newhouse asked if all families should have already received info for the school day tomorrow, and Christine Elliot confirmed that should be the case.
Dr. Brand also clarified that cohorts A-C will receive synchronous learning for 4.5 days under the remote learning model, which is more synchronous learning than the hybrid model with 2.5 days. Synchronous learning, as described by Elliott, is live teaching and support, while asynchronous learning is information given to students on assignments and activities to be done independently.
In the public comments, residents expressed their overwhelming dissatisfaction about changing the plan to extending full remote at the last minute. Several mentioned the ineffectiveness of all of the planning and meeting that has been discussed without a plan provided before the first day of school.
They reasoned that if Wilmington’s first responders, food service workers, and other community members can return to work, then so should their teachers. Many reiterated they preferred in person learning and that their voices haven’t been heard in this regard.
Addressing specifically the reasons for the delay from Dr. Brand’s email, some residents understood the negotiations of the WTA to be “putting political agendas in the way of the students’ education.”
This may stem from the perceived lack of transparency into what the negotiations have been about. Commenters also wondered why teachers were late notifying the district of their intention to take leaves and why the HVAC requests had been put in so late. A few suggested solutions to the HVAC issues were opening windows, having class outdoors, and letting the younger students use the newest buildings and letting the oldest students start remote.
Some residents stood on the defense of teachers and thanked Dr. Brand and the School Committee.
One resident said, “It’s unfair to place so much blame on administrators, teachers, and building leadership.”
Another commenter explained on behalf of teachers that they’ve spent months worrying, overanalyzing every possible situation, and hoping to be in class again with their students. Still, many residents want to see the School Committee, administration, and the WTA solve outstanding issues so that students can get back to school in person.
Residents also shared concern for not being notified yet about the specific plan for each class or cohort for the first day of remote learning. They sought concrete, specific direction for their students at home.
One resident said, “I don’t care if we go remote; I just want to know what to expect.”
While School Committee Chair Jennifer Bryson repeated that the committee doesn’t respond to public comments, they’re still updating the FAQ on the school website and inviting residents to email remaining questions to any school committee member.