WILMINGTON — At last Wednesday night’s meeting, the Wilmington School Committee heard an update about the school reopening plan. Since the committee recently voted in favor of a hybrid model that starts with remote, the public comments that were read in the beginning of the meeting were all related.
A number of residents shared their support for the hybrid learning model identified as the best option by the reopening committee. That said, some of them questioned the necessity of the phased-in approach that starts with remote learning. This seemed to be in part due to their lack of faith in remote learning from this past spring.
The consensus among a few residents was to say that a “silent majority” supports full in-person learning this fall.
One resident said, “It’s disingenuous to believe that an ineffective remote learning environment can fulfill all needs.”
Another resident said, “Let us acknowledge the low risk of COVID but the high risk of children falling behind academically and socially.”
One commenter mentioned they’d like to see hybrid switch to in-person learning eventually.
Another concern residents shared in their public comments was how much, or perhaps how little, planning and attention is going into cohort C, the opt-in remote only group.
“There is a feeling that choosing remote is choosing an inferior education,” one resident said.
Parents wanted to know that a Wilmington teacher would be teaching their children remotely instead of a third party program.
Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand started the school reopening update with the results of the family learning model selection survey. While a large number of parents and guardians had completed the survey wrong delaying the results, he said that about one class per grade per school will be remote at the elementary level, 50-60 students per grade at the middle school, and 76 for all grades combined at the high school. He also said that the cohort assignments will be about a week late going out to parents.
The section about special education and high needs students was presented by Director of Student Support Services Alice Brown Legrand. Legrand established these students will be prioritized for as much in-person learning as possible. As students’ needs have been reevaluated, she said that they decided that students falling under “high needs” and also meeting two out of these three criteria will have full in-person learning: having services provided outside of the general education classroom, services provided by special education teachers, and services constituting more than 75 percent of that student’s school day.
The director also said full in person learning will be granted to students who have a disability that prevents them from remote learning, students who use aided and augmentative communication, students who are homeless or in foster care, and students dually identified as English learners, regardless of where they fall in terms of their needs or whether they meet any of the other criteria.
Students who have what they’ve deemed “complex and significant” needs will attend in person four days a week, and those who fall in low to moderate needs who otherwise meet the criteria will be put in a normal hybrid cohort. This plan allows 143 students, or 21 percent of the special education population, to have either four or five days in-person this year.
Wilmington Board of Health Director Shelly Newhouse gave an update for coronavirus cases in town, with current numbers at seven positive cases and seven residents in quarantine. Two of the positive cases, she said, are away at college quarantining. She added that the trend continues to be with 20-30-year olds catching the virus.
A joint meme from DESE and the Department of Public Health was then presented by Director of Nursing Services Doreen Crowe. Among the updates in guidance were a new definition of “close contact” to be having 15 minutes of direct contact within six feet, masks required for students of all ages, and the fever threshold changing to 100.0 degrees. The committee seemed to be concerned about how close contact would be tracked throughout the day.
In the student transportation section, it was said that bus riders would be given an ID card to ensure that each bus doesn’t exceed maximum occupancy. They said that this may force students within a certain radius of schools to walk this year. So far they’ve only had to create four new mid-day routes without requiring more buses. The committee also asked about how masks and distancing will be enforced and whether loading in order of stops will make boarding take longer.
George Hooper talked about the new cleaning and disinfecting techniques and equipment for custodians at all Wilmington schools. One of the new tools in use is called the victory electrostatic sprayer, and it can only be used at the end of the day once teachers have left. He mentioned that classrooms will be disinfected daily and bathrooms twice a day.
Dr. Brand finished the presentation with next steps after he talked about the priority areas for the 10 days training and professional development for staff. He said they’ll be focusing on health, safety, and wellbeing, addressing the needs of students, curricular planning, reengagement, and use of technology platforms. He also noted that there are still questions of protocols and procedures, HVAC assessments, negotiations with the WTA, staff availability, and scheduling logistics to be worked out before the first day of school.