STATE REP RACE Q&A: DiFruscia & Robertson Discuss If It’s Safe To Reopen Schools

Leading up to the November 4 election, Wilmington Apple will be submitting questions each week to both candidates for the 19th Middlesex State Representative seat — incumbent Dave Robertson (D-Tewksbury) and challenger Alec DiFruscia (R-Tewksbury). Have a question for them? Email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com.

Question: Do you feel it’s safe for Wilmington & Tewksbury students to go back to school in-person? If you had a child, would you send him or her back to school in-person this month? Has the State House done enough to assist Wilmington & Tewksbury school systems as they prepare to implement their hybrid models and educate students both in-person & remotely for the first time ever?

Alec DiFruscia

I believe it is safe for students to return to school in-person, and if I had a child, I would plan for them to attend school in-person this year. Many students rely on schools for necessary services, including special education programs, and we know children are less likely to be infected with COVID-19. 

The Baker administration released guidelines for a return to in-person learning and left the decision to return up to the 371 school districts across the Commonwealth. While there has been some funding secured for schools’ COVID-19 related costs, this is a short term fix to a potentially long term problem. Legislators have failed to pass the annual budget and the state is facing a potential six billion dollar budget deficit. As a result, school districts are left in a position of uncertainty as they do their best to adapt to the circumstances. 

Dave Robertson

With our numbers trending the right direction and the public strongly supporting staying safe with masks and sanitation, I am staying optimistic, but guarded, with the reopening of our schools. As I plan on being a father one day, I have found myself trying to put myself in the shoes of parents today, and I must say that I would most certainly allow my child to attend.

Overall, I give the state mixed results on reopening. First, I am immensely proud that our previous careful budgeting ensured our rainy day fund fully funded all local education this coming year- guaranteeing schools would not have to suffer any short falls or cuts nor cause any tax increases. Our economic growth over the last 10 years exceeded initial revenue projections and it allowed us to put aside billions. This long-term planning paid-off in spades as we stepped in to level fund local governments everywhere. While other states are cutting back, we can continue to provide full local services and quality of life for all, including all education. I am also proud that an emphasis was placed by the state on students who have IEP’s or other services needed, as they face some of the hardest challenges with remote learning. Compared to where these students were several months ago, it is a vast improvement, though more work can and must be done. Another positive mark for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is the increased planning for supplemental and remote learning, though I stand ready to see how this plan will play out in practice. 

I will express disappointment in the Commonwealth in some areas. First, as my local school committee members called for, the state should have provided better guidance sooner when it came to reopening. I believe that a standardized regional advice and plans to communities based on population density and infection rate would have been the best way to handle the working up to new school year. This improved and targeted communication would have prevented the proverbial mad scramble as towns and cities each struggled to figure out what they needed to do. Furthermore, this tactic would have allowed the towns, state, and teachers to plan on one broad platform and within one discussion. The last thing we want to do is create any confusion that might lead to an increase our infection numbers. Massachusetts has been one of the most successful states when is came to handling this outbreak early on, despite being the third hardest hit.

I was also disappointed of how long the state took to make recommendations to towns on curriculum, the lack of advice on potential platforms, software, and hardware to utilize electronic classroom hours, as well as the delay in recommendations on synchronous or asychronous teaching situations (whether the lesson is pre-recorded or done live). While the state cannot promote certain products or services, we can compile a list of these as we did during our search for PPE. Lastly, I also wish the state allocated money for masks, fumigators, and other safety equipment for all schools – though this is not a problem for Tewksbury or Wilmington as I specifically addressed this with $125,000 in earmarks that helped sure-up notable gaps in PPE availability for our studetns, teachers, and staff..

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