REOPENING UPDATE: Families Must Choose Between Hybrid Or Remote By August 11; Look For Informational Video On August 6

Below is a letter from School Committee Chair Jennifer Bryson and Superintendent Glenn Brand sent to parents and staff on August 4:

Dear WPS Parents and Staff,

We are writing with an update on our planning process for the start of a new school year at Wilmington Public Schools.

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 to begin to gradually reopen, 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 have heard, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) directed superintendents to submit, by July 31, 2020, a preliminary plan inclusive of information about the feasibility of three options for serving students at the start of the school year. Those options include a 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, which will be approved by the School Committee, is due to DESE by August 10. Given the significant changes these plans will require, and the complexity of planning associated with the way schools will operate, we have requested from the Commissioner a few additional days in which to submit this plan. As a result, while the original intent was to bring this final plan before the Committee this Wednesday, August 5, this timeline has been revised and the final plan will now be approved on Wednesday, August 12.

Of course, 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, did not reach all students (particularly those with the greatest needs), 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 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.

It should also be noted that, like all districts in the Commonwealth, we must negotiate our proposal with all employee unions including teachers, administrative assistants, educational assistants and nurses. The District has scheduled negotiation meetings with the Wilmington Teacher’s Association beginning this week to work toward an agreement and we will pursue negotiations with all impacted unions for a hybrid learning plan, which would bring the 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 be physically in school. This 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 every day – but also in smaller, distanced settings with all other precautions in place. We should point out that families have the option to have their child(ren) participate in full remote learning. Families will be asked later this week to make a decision on their selection.

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, and that we remain guided by the science to keep our students safe and healthy. Of equal importance to the safety of our students is the safety and well‐being of our teachers and staff and the District is committed to implementing measures that keep all employees safe. Of course, we will be prepared to make adjustments along the way if the public health conditions or other variables change over time.

As we move closer to a final plan, we welcome input and feedback from all of our stakeholders. We invite you to share your questions, comments, and ideas to help inform and strengthen our plans.

We will keep you informed about our progress in developing a final plan and in our negotiations with the unions. We will continue to post updates on our website as well as social media, and we welcome you to visit our newly created reopening section of our district website. We are 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.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Bryson
Chair, Wilmington School Committee

Glenn Brand
Glenn Brand Superintendent of Schools

Below is a letter from Superintendent Glenn Brand sent to parents August 5:

Dear WPS Families,

As I am sure you are becoming aware, work is ‘ramping up’ as we are working hard to develop our plans for the reopening of schools. I wanted to pass along to you a couple of key pieces of information, and an update, regarding your participation in this very important and challenging work.

Community Presentation – I will be providing the community with more information as it pertains to our reopening plans. Tomorrow, I will be recording a presentation that will be available online by early afternoon. Community members will be able to access the presentation on-demand at a time that works best for your schedule, and we will send out a separate email drawing your attention to when it is available and where you can view it. Please also not that the slides that will be used for this presentation will be available on our website.

While I recognize that this is not going to be an interactive presentation, and that there are many questions swirling out there, we will do our best to gather these questions as we move forward. I am confident that after you have had the opportunity to review the information contained within the presentation, you will have a much better understanding about our plan and your options as a family.

Family Survey – I recognize that I am asking a lot of our families to make an important decision in a rather short period of time. I want you to know that I understand this, but that I also want to impress upon everyone the fact that having clarity over the individual plans of our 3,000 plus students has never been more important than it is right now.

With the understanding that a little more time may be needed by some families to make the best decision for their children, I am going to revise the survey timeline and ask all families to complete the survey, and provide the district with a final binding decision, by the end of the day on Tuesday, August 11 (original date of August 9). Please remember that this outreach is specifically asking you to let the District know if you wish to have your child begin the school year in a fully remote learning model OR if you want your child to attend some degree of in-person instruction with the hybrid model that we are proposing. This survey will require that you complete a survey for each child enrolled at WPS.

Home School vs. Fully Remote Instruction – I recognize that there may be some confusion regarding the option of fully remote instruction as being the same thing as home schooling. These are not the same thing and in my update tomorrow, I will provide clarity around this distinction.

I recognize full well that this is an awful lot of information to try to understand and navigate, but please know that we will do our best to respond to your concerns and questions throughout this process.

Thank you for your ongoing support, patience and understanding.

Regards,

Glenn Brand
Superintendent of Schools

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