If you did not receive this letter in the US Mail, please call your child's school.
August 5, 2020
I am writing with an update on our planning process for the start of a new school year in the Berkley Public Schools. We are scheduled to resume student learning on September 14, 2020.
Our planning process continues to be guided by a vigilant monitoring of public health data in Massachusetts, and we are encouraged that indicators about the virus continue to move in the right direction. The Commonwealth’s careful and disciplined approach has enabled our state gradually to begin reopening, in part because of strong compliance with health and safety precautions. The question now on all of our minds is how and when we apply those lessons learned to begin safely reopening our public schools.
As you may have heard, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) has directed districts to submit by July 31, 2020 a preliminary plan that addresses the feasibility of three options for serving students at the start of the school year. The options include full return to daily in-person attendance, a hybrid plan combining in-school learning with some remote learning and finally a 100% remote learning program. Each district’s final plan, approved by the School Committee, is due to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education by August 10th.
We know that under normal circumstances, students would be best served in schools every day, interacting with their peers and engaged in live classroom learning. While our educators and families worked incredibly hard last spring to implement remote learning, we know that approach presented enormous challenges and is not an adequate substitute for in-person interaction with teachers. When out of school, our students also lack access to all of the academic, mental, and physical supports that help ensure their social-emotional well-being, particularly in navigating the effects of trauma during these tremendously challenging times. Therefore, we believe our families and students deserve more than a fully remote learning plan.
In order to adhere to the school re-opening guidance provided by DESE, consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Pediatric Association, we also do not believe we can safely meet physical spacing distancing requirements with all students and staff in the buildings at the same time. However, we do believe we can make significant changes in our school schedules and operating procedures to make a partial return to in-person learning both safe and successful. This approach will require strategies to ensure physical distancing, as well as a series of other critical health and safety measures, including wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, screening regularly for symptoms of illness, and staying home from school when sick, among others. Our planning process includes a comprehensive set of strategies and investments to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.
We will be bringing students back into school buildings for in-person instruction in smaller, socially distanced groups on a rotating basis, combined with a robust remote learning program on the days students are not scheduled to physically be in school.
The Berkley School Committee voted to institute a hybrid-learning model for the opening of the 2020-2021 school year. Students will attend school in-person two days in a given week, and have three days of remote learning. Remote learning experiences will be similar to that which was provided in the spring of 2020, however remote learning will be required of all students, will be more robust and will result in report cards issued at all levels. Cohort A will attend Monday and Tuesday in person and have remote instruction on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Cohort B will attend school remotely Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and have in-person learning on Thursday and Friday. In this model, teachers would use Wednesdays to plan and prepare for the week’s lessons, both remote and in-person and the building will be deep cleaned, which is why there is no in-person class that day. This hybrid plan also enables us to bring a subset of students in greatest need of in-person instruction and support, particularly students with disabilities, back to school four days a week in smaller, distanced settings with all other precautions in place.
We recognize that the circumstances of every family and staff member are different, and that no plan ultimately will satisfy everyone in our community. But rest assured that we are working diligently to explore every option available to us, that we remain guided by the science to keep our students and staff safe and healthy, and that we will be prepared to make adjustments along the way if the public health conditions or other variables change over time. Due to concerns in regards to spacing and mixing students, Surround Care will not be available at the beginning of the year. If restrictions are lifted later in the year, Surround Care may reopen.
Enclosed, you will find a “Family Information Sheet” that lists the cohort to which your child belongs. This sheet seeks information about your participation in the hybrid learning model and transportation for your child. It is imperative that you fill out this sheet and return it in the envelope provided by August 12, 2020 so that we may continue planning for the upcoming school year.
Please take time to read this entire plan as it contains important details about the upcoming school year including details about Special Education Services and Preschool.
I am confident that we can prioritize both safety and learning as we prepare for the start of a successful school year. Thank you for your patience and cooperation in these difficult times.
Thomas J. Lynch, Superintendent of Schools
6:30 PM School Committee meeting