CONTRIBUTED BY BROOKLINE PARENTS ORGANIZATION
Brookline parents, educators and community members gathered over Zoom at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 19 to participate in a Q&A with Interim Superintendent Dr. James Marini. During the session, Marini answered audience questions about remote learning and possible plans for school reopening in the fall. The conversation was sponsored by the Brookline Parents Organization (BPO) and moderated by Brookline parent and journalist Carey Goldberg.
During the meeting, Marini said that the district has prepared in-person, virtual and hybrid school reopening models. The district will learn which model to implement on August 10. The district will strive to grant leniency and support for staff and students and hopes that students with special needs will have access to in-person learning come September.
According to Marini, Brookline has prepared a few tentative plans for what school will look like in September. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) stated that all school districts in Massachusetts must develop three outlines for the 2020-2021 school year: an in-person, remote and hybrid model.
Marini said that an in-person model would expect all students to be physically present in the school building every day. A remote learning environment would consist entirely of virtual instruction and the hybrid model is a blend of the in-person and remote learning models. Under a hybrid model, students would rotate between virtual and in-person classes either every other week or every two days.
“We are currently developing the three models, and we have to submit them to the (DESE) on July 31. By August 10 we need to decide which model to implement, and at this point, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Marini said. “For me to sit here and say ‘this is what we’re doing in the fall’ is disingenuous because I’m not sure what’s going on.”
Marini also said that the district is currently running cost estimates before deciding on a budget for the next school year.
“We’re doing what’s called a ‘stress test.’ That’s a question of how many students we can bring in if we need six feet of distance. If we reduce the numbers and use alternative spaces as classrooms, how many additional teachers will we need? We’re running cost estimates and stress tests, and we’re trying to put all of that together. It’s still evolving,” Marini said.
When asked about whether educators and children with COVID will be able to receive support and leniency from the district, Marini reiterated that negotiations and planning are still underway. While emergency daycare services seem unlikely, Marini said that he will work to negotiate a fair contract with the Brookline Educator’s Union (BEU) that takes the pandemic’s effects into consideration.
“A memorandum of understanding with the teachers will definitely be worked out. We want to support the teachers to the extent that we can. There are requirements in terms of the accommodations that can be made, but that will be negotiated,” Marini said. “However, I don’t think the school system, at this point, would be able to provide emergency daycare for sick children.”
Marini said that if Brookline adopts the in-person or hybrid models, then social distancing and public health guidelines will become crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“I met with the high school staff. They are very busy considering how kids can reduce the amount of exposure they get with each other,” Marini said. “We will still need to provide some distance learning because there may be teachers who are medically compromised. We also have to consider students who may be medically compromised, and there may be other reasons why kids may not go to school.”
In response to a large volume of community questions, Marini said that the district is trying to have students with special needs and Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) be in-person come September.
“We have prioritized in-person teaching for students who otherwise would not be able to access their learning. They may have extraordinary needs and medical conditions. Therefore, we will have a select number of students in the building, regardless of which model we adopt,” Marini said.
Marini acknowledged that remote learning in the spring of 2020 was not as well-organized as the community had expected. Marini said that he hopes to oversee the creation of a more standardized and engaging curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year.
“I can say with confidence that the experiences that happened in the spring were upsetting to everyone. Now teachers know that there is an expectation for distance learning. There needs to be a syllabus, a set of standards and a set of expectations,” Marini said. “We are developing standards so that a third grade education is a third grade education, no matter which school you go to. It’s an area that’s being taken seriously.”
Throughout the meeting, Marini stressed his gratitude and appreciation towards the Brookline community and its values.
“Brookline is an extraordinary community that cares deeply about its students, its teachers and the community. We have experts all across the spectrum, but we also have a deep commitment to each other,” Marini said. “Everyone wants the same thing. We want the students and staff to be safe.”