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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin, July 26, 2020

Hope you are all doing reasonably well. It's still only July. Try to enjoy your summer as best you can.  COVID-19 Update We received much member feedback this week from both the "Considerations for Reopening" survey and from the member debriefs after David Fleishman's faculty presentations on Wednesday. The participation rate in both was astonishing: 1252 members took the survey, and while we don't have exact numbers, Building Representatives across the district remarked on how many people attended their sessions.  There are a number of major issues/themes that stand out both in the surveys and in the debriefing sessions:

  • Members were generally relieved to hear that the district was not planning to reopen schools in September with all students in schools, and they were also generally relieved to hear that the district would be adhering to the CDC six feet social distancing guideline rather than the DESE three foot guideline. 

  • That said, in the surveys, 80% of members believe we should begin the school year remotely, and move to a hybrid model only when it is safe to do so. This was the general sentiment expressed in the debriefing sessions as well.

  • Among the public health concerns we asked about, members are most concerned about the ability of students to follow social distancing protocols (73% extremely concerned and 17% very concerned) followed closely by concerns about the ventilation in buildings (65% extremely concerned and 18% very concerned). Members were slightly more concerned about exposing a family member than exposing themselves or their students to SARS-CoV-2...but three quarters of members were extremely or very concerned about all three.

  • While members were, on average, very concerned about the social emotional toll that being out of school takes on students, they were slightly more concerned about the social and emotional toll that being in school under conditions of social distancing could potentially take, and they were most concerned about the potential toll that reopening schools and then closing them again could take. 

  • Equity of student access to remote learning remains, as it was in the focus groups we ran at the end of the year, a source of very high concern for members.

  • Large numbers of members or persons they live with have medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness should they become ill with COVID-19, as many as 20% to 25%. 

  • Over 350 members have children who cannot be left home alone, and while some of these members have a back up plan, most anticipate that it would be an emotional and financial hardship to find and pay for childcare. And it exposes children to other students and caregivers, increasing the risk of illness.

In short members are concerned that the public health and social emotional risks of returning to school outweigh the social emotional risks and equity risks of beginning the year under a remote learning model.  Many members simply cannot work with colleagues or students in person. But there are no "good" alternatives here. In my experience, as soon as members begin thinking of teaching remotely again, they worry about the myriad problems that we all faced last spring. That said, this is one of the key reasons many members gave for believing our attention should be focussed on addressing those problems.  We negotiated on Friday, July 24, with the School Committee and members of Central Administration. It was by far the most cordial and substantive meeting we have had together to date. The district gave an overview presentation of their plans. We listened, presented the information from our member feedback that I just shared above, and pressed for a phased reopening, beginning the year in a remote learning model.  We will meet again this Wednesday, July 29, when the School Committee will present us with a more detailed version of the plan they outlined on Friday, and we will respond. Harmony Foundation Newton Sponsors Virtual Event "The Harmony Foundation is delighted to be part of the newly formed Coalition: "Overdue: Confronting Race and Racism in Newton".  Please join us for the upcoming virtual event:  "A Conversation with Ibram X. Kendi" on Aug. 12 at 6:30p.m.  Registration is required and limited to 1000, so please do not delay! "

"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." Please take care and stay well. Mike  


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