For the most part, I’m satisfied with the current reopening plan; although I admit that it’s far from perfect, it is far better than the half-baked, dangerous hybrid plan that was released previously.
My main frustrations with the original plan were the inequity and lack of thought surrounding it. As someone with muscular dystrophy who is at higher risk of having a severe case of COVID-19, I and others like me had no choice but to select the Distance Learning Academy, which we knew nothing about. We didn’t even know if we would be able to take the classes we chose or be taught by Newton Public Schools (NPS) teachers; I was terrified of having to choose between my health and my education.
Low rates of infection in Newton were stated as a primary reason for hybrid learning, which assumed that all NPS students and faculty live in Newton. This assumption completely left students in the METCO program and educators who live outside of Newton out of the conversation. Although the current model’s schedules and methods of teaching aren’t perfect, it guarantees that students who cannot attend in-person school are given the same educational opportunities as those who can, which is of primary importance to me.
Further, in the hybrid model, schedules didn’t follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education guidelines, and although everyone was required to wear masks, not enough Personal Protective Equipment was purchased for all staff and faculty. There were also no plans put in place for if a student or educator did contract COVID-19; questions surrounding contact tracing, identity protection, quarantining and transitioning online remained. Without those plans, schools would have struggled to isolate positive cases, leading to an almost-certain outbreak and a spike in COVID-19 cases in Newton. The current plan ensures everyone’s safety, as students will be remote only until students, educators and the School Committee all deem it safe to return and schools have implemented the appropriate safety measures.
The primary issue I have with the current plan is that, like the hybrid plan, this plan ignores the needs of teachers. Teachers were ignored in the process of drafting both plans, even though they know the facilities and students better than anyone else. In addition, the current plan emphasizes a return to school sometime in the coming months, but despite teachers’ pleas, the district is not implementing surveillance testing, having a third-party ventilation inspection or receiving all of the necessary Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value filters in time, all of which are necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.
Although I believe we should continue to advocate for safety measures for when we do return to school, I am overall happy with the current plan, as it is safer and more equitable than the previous one.