With parents and students feeling anxious to return to in-person learning some parents have criticized the Revere Public School (RPS) Department for not doing enough to get students back in classrooms or that the department is being overly cautious.
At last Wednesday’s Revere School Committee’s Committee of the Whole meeting, RPS Superintendent Dianne Kelly addressed the concerns and criticisms in a presentation to members.
“I know that we’ve had several discussions about reopening at each one of the School Committee meetings since the middle of the summer,” Kelly began. “I know that parents and families are feeling anxious about hearing more of what’s going on. I want to acknowledge at the start of this that there are a lot of people who feel differently on both ends of the spectrum about where we are with remote learning, about where we are with a return to in-person learning, about where we are with athletics. Some of the struggle is that we have so many different things in local media around the state of Massachusetts but also in the national media about what the right thing is to do in the face of COVID and, frankly, it’s beguiling. But one thing that I’d like to say to everybody is you really need to understand that with all data that we’re looking at and with all the information that we’re looking at it’s very context specific.”
Kelly said, for example, one debate that has been going on nationwide since the school year began is around whether or not it’s safe for kids to be in school in light of COVID or is it better for kids to be in school for their social and emotional well being as opposed to being isolated at home.
“We had different reports, we had different studies that have been conducted that have different findings in both of those areas,” said Kelly. “And regardless of what any particular study shows you we really have to consider the context of where that study was undertaken, what students were involved and what the COVID context was for that environment. It’s not necessarily the case that where we are in Revere is going to match perfectly to what we see happening in other communities across the Commonwealth, or across the nation.”
Kelly said Revere’s school reopening plan has been posted of RPS’s website since before school started and breaks down current remote learning system, what hybrid learning might look like when it is implemented and it also what in person learning will look like in the future.
However, Kelly reminded that any move from one plan to the next would be based on Revere’s COVID positivity rate, which is about 8 percent now.
“There’s one piece of that rate that I want to highlight for the school committee and for the community at large now,” said Kelly. “And that was the updated guidance from the Department of Public Health and the Governor’s office released at the end of November. And in that guidance they talked about the plan for reopening schools based on COVID positivity rates in particular communities. I would summarize that change by saying, initially they said if you’re considered a red community, according to the state framework, you should be remote.”
However, Kelly said that guidance was then changed but applied to more suburban school settings where facilities are bigger and social distancing can be maintained.
“They urge red communities to implement hybrid programs, and you would think, “well that’s Revere. We’ve been red since July,” said Kelly. “While that’s true, the state took the extra step to highlight a few districts that they knew were unique and different and Revere was one of those districts.”
Kelly said the state urged Revere and other ‘red’ districts where the positivity rate is extremely high to be more careful. Revere officials were told by the Department of Public Health to try to figure out a plan to introduce in-school learning without jeopardizing the safety of students and staff.
“It’s really important to point out the fact that the Department of Public Health identified a handful of districts, Revere being one of them, to single out as being a little bit different than everybody else. I think it highlights my point of all of the guidance we hear around social emotional learning needs of kids and academic learning needs of kids and safety and COVID transmission—it is really relevant to the context that you’re living in, when you apply those ideas.”
Kelly said she realizes the real concern right now is how and when Revere gets back to school for in-person learning.
“I can’t emphasize enough that that’s what we all want,” said Kelly. “But we have to make sure that we’re doing it in a safe way. We feel like we’d be ready to open school tomorrow if we could. We have the right PPE. We understand the parameters around social distancing. We have cohorted our students so that there’d be minimal mixture of kids at different points in the day, and like a lot of other high schools in the Commonwealth we even did that for freshmen and sophomores, so kids would be together with one group of students throughout the day and not be constantly switching and changing–increasing the risk of COVID spreading.”
However, Kelly said the COVID rates are still just too high in Revere for a safe return to school.
“What we really need to do if we want to get back to school is work as a community to change that trend, and really make those numbers go in a different direction,” said Kelly. “I know the Mayor’s Office has put out a lot of information on how people can do that and quite frankly that’s going to be the most important thing. If we really want to talk seriously about getting kids back into school.”
Kelly added that those that have both criticized and praised RPS during these tough times should keep public disputes over when students should return to school to a minimum.
“We really need collaboration between parents, teachers, and the schools,” said Kelly. “What’s not helpful, and I’ve seen a little bit of it on social media lately, is different groups pitting themselves against other groups. All that does is cause more social and emotional harm to kids who are listening to those conversations and witnessing those conversations and it makes this an even more challenging time for everybody involved. I can say that nobody here loves the way things are going or loves the conditions that we find ourselves in so we really need to work together to figure out solutions that will work and still be safe.”
Kelly said that the hope is that RPS will be able to bring at least special needs students back in middle to late January.
“Then we can learn from that slowly and steadily and start bringing more kids back to school,” she said. “We would continue to prioritize high need kids, such as our homeless students and kids that are living in foster care, our English language learners and other kids that we know have significantly greater challenges than some of the peers at home.”