Remote Learning Task Force meets to discuss potential plans for Brookline schools in September



The four panels of the Remote Learning Task Force met June 19 to discuss plans for the reopening of schools in September. Education equity, student experience and health protocols were all reviewed in the meeting.

Members of the School Committee Ad-Hoc Task Force on Remote Learning came together virtually at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, June 19 to discuss the fall semester for the Brookline Public Schools (BPS).

The Task Force is divided into four subpanels, each focusing on one possibility for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year. The first panel, Expert Advisory Panel 1: Educational Excellence and Equity, discussed what the curriculum would look like for students if remote learning were to continue.

Dr. Kenann McKenzie, Director of the Aspire Institute at Boston University, discussed her panels’ opinions on how the curriculum will function for the upcoming school year.

“In our upcoming meetings, we will discuss our different types of accommodations and how to think about them for different grade levels, including the high school,” McKenzie said. “We will also discuss the curriculum for the fall semester and how to approach that.”

Even with the challenges of remote teaching, McKenzie and her panel are considering it for students and families that are concerned about returning if COVID-19 is still prevalent.

“We have to start brainstorming and thinking about how we will teach our curriculum, while keeping students and our educators safe and socially distanced, so we should consider some other options [like continued remote learning] for concerned parents and students,” McKenzie said.

Before the other panel representatives spoke, Brookline School Committee (BSC) Vice-Chair Sharon Abramowitz wanted to voice her opinion on their engagement with the community.

“We have to fill some gaps together and also communicate with the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) and other community members to see what they believe is the best option for the fall,” Abramowitz said. “We have to stop having private meetings and take some input from other involved individuals, because ultimately, that is what matters here.”

Abramowitz continued, saying that parents are not being accurately represented in the panels.

“We have to make sure parents, educators and administrators are large stakeholders in the planning for the fall. In many ways, the opinions of the parents are not being accurately represented in some of these meetings,” Abramowitz said.

The next panels to present their recent findings were the Expert Advisory Panel 2: Support to Address the Whole Child Experience and Expert Advisory Panel 3: Remote Learning Capacity Building. The panels primarily focused on student experience throughout their education and organization of the building if students are to return to the school.

Lauren Bernard who runs the Coolidge Corner After School Enrichment Program (CCASEP), communicated her experiences with cohorts and different groups in after school programs and how scaling that organizational method to a district scale would be difficult.

“There is another possibility for cohorts to happen. Right now in ‘Extend a Day’ [referring to the Coolidge Corner After School Enrichment Program], we always have cohorts to separate students and have them engage in different activities, but having cohorts at such a large scale will be challenging,” Bernard said.

Bernard, who has some experience in Special Education, also mentioned that continuing with remote learning would be nearly impossible for certain students in the fall.

“Remote learning is based on reading, so students in English Language Learners (ELL) and students with dyslexia will continue to be challenged with remote learning in the fall,” Bernard said.

The last panel to speak, Expert Advisory Panel 4: Public Health, Safety and Logistics, focused on the safety of students and educators in the buildings if they return to school.

David Gacioch, who counsels hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and other providers, explained the progress in public safety his panel considered in their previous meeting.

“Some of the necessary precautions we would implement would be making hand sanitizer widely available so students do not have to congregate around sinks, making bathroom trips more regulated and having plexiglass in some areas to protect against coughs and droplets,” Gacioch said.

Gacioch also explained why a mix of remote learning and social distancing in the classroom setting might be the best option for Brookline to pursue.

“We talked about space ratios for teachers and students in the classroom setting and we have to consider the six-foot social distancing rule, so we cannot have the usual 20-25 students in each classroom,” Gacioch said. “All of this leads many of us to believe a hybrid of remote learning and physical school would be the best option.”

Abramowitz, in response to listening to the numerous concerns surrounding remote learning in the fall and the realistic possibility of not reopening, attempted to weigh the risk against the reward.

“Schools are always places for disease transmission, so we have to lower the risk of students and educators getting COVID-19 to an acceptable level,” Abramowitz said. “We have to look at the percentage risk for everyone and weigh the negatives of reopening to the positives because many students have struggled with remote learning.”