Some 66% of families would be willing to send students back in person
The Chelsea Public Schools are beginning a whirlwind of planning and meetings starting tonight when the administration unveils its re-opening plans to the School Committee – plans that have three alternatives and a lot of grey areas in between.
Supt. Almi Abeyta said they plan to go over the plans at the School Committee meeting on Thursday, July 30, and then begin a full week of virtual meetings and one in-person meeting as well to hear what parents think.
“We will present to the School Committee the three plans and show what we’ve worked on,” she said. “Then we’ll have some community conversations and hear what parents think. We’re going to be busy.”
The input sessions will start on July 31 and go through next week as well, with an expected School Committee vote on the final plan by Aug. 11.
The three plans are based upon a very strong parent survey that went out two weeks ago and had 1,900 responses. The results of that showed that about 66 percent of families would be willing to send their children in-person to school all the time or part of the time. However, a large number – 33 percent – said they only wanted online learning.
“We had a strong response to the survey and of the 1,900 that responded, 79 percent were in Spanish,” she said. “We know that two-thirds of our families would be willing to come back with in-person and remote learning and with all in-person learning. So we know a good two-thirds of parents are willing – maybe not every day – to come back. We also know that one-third are not willing to come back and we have to meet those needs too.”
Abeyta said no matter what they decide about in-person, they have realized from the survey they need a robust remote plan in place by the start of school – which will come 10 days later than normal by state decree earlier this week.
“We can’t have 33 percent of our students not learning,” she said.
One key in Chelsea is that it was such a hot spot for the virus and so many student families were impacted directly. Abeyta said one member of the Re-Opening Task Force had been inflicted with COVID-19, and was in no way interested in having students back in school. This is an experience that must be anticipated in Chelsea, Abeyta said, as so many were traumatized here by sickness or death.
“That person’s reaction to us bringing students back to school was that we had no business being in school buildings until there was a vaccine,” she said. “On the other hand, I also had a parent who is part of the special education program and they said their child isn’t receiving services and they want them back in school to get services.”
That will mean that remote learning will need to be much improved over last Spring’s emergency online learning plans – which were good for some, and not for others.
“Families are saying they need more rigor and more structure with the remote learning,” she said. “The work we’ve done this summer is how do we strengthen that and how do we improve it. It will be improved and it will be guided and it will be more organized.”
Abeyta also said they have to be ready for the virus to return if they go in person, but it will be a matter of controlling it as the community is doing now with masks and precautions.
If students are in person, they will be in groups of 15 and spaced out accordingly in the classrooms with teachers. They will be kept in a cohort so that if someone in the cohort tests positive, it will be much easier to quarantine the group.
“If someone is positive, we’ll know they have been in certain areas,” she said. “We know the virus is going to happen. We know it’s still out there. We just want to maintain control. In a way, school will be safer than a grocery store. We’ll monitor things completely and there will be PPE and hand-washing all the time.”
One part of the plan that is universal for Chelsea is that students will be spaced out six feet apart. State regulations allow for as low as three feet between students to increase numbers, but Abeyta said six feet is right for Chelsea.
“In Chelsea, we’re looking at six feet and not three feet,” she said. “We’re going by the data from the Harvard Department of Public Health. We feel six feet is right. We’re going to hold to the highest standard.”
The School Committee meeting will be live-streamed on Facebook at 6:30 p.m. on July 30.
•Friday, July 31, 2020 Virtual/Zoom
•Monday, August 3, 2020 Virtual/Zoom- Spanish
•Tuesday, August 4, 2020 Virtual/Zoom
•Tuesday, August 5, 2020 at the Chelsea Collaborative in person – Spanish