Brookline School Committee presents reopening plans for 2020 – 2021 school year

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LUCA KELLEY NIELSEN/SAGAMORE STAFF

The Brookline School Committee convened virtually at 6 p.m. on August 4 to discuss plans for the upcoming 2020 – 2021 school year. For the high school, the student body would be separated into 2 cohorts, with both of them having two and a half days of in-person learning. Wednesday would have a two hour transitional period where faculty would sanitize the buildings and students would enter and exit.

Members of the Brookline School Committee (BSC) convened virtually at 6 p.m. on August 4 to discuss the structure of several programs, as well as safety precautions for all school buildings during the upcoming 2020 – 2021 school year.

With guidance from school administrators, the BSC created a potential schedule for the high school. The student body would be separated into two cohorts; one coming into the high school on Monday, Tuesday and the first half of Wednesday, and the other coming in the second half of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. School days would consistently begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 2:55 p.m.

The schedule for 3rd through 8th-grade students would have Monday through Wednesday allocated towards core academics, with other classes like world language, physical education, health and art scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The BSC has made it a priority to have kindergarten through 2nd-grade students back in the classroom as soon as possible.

While sharing the new potential high school schedule, Assistant Head of School Hal Mason explained how having fewer blocks in one school day will allow for effective sanitation and organization.

“It would be very challenging for educators to organize and sanitize their classrooms after every single class session, so rather than having five or six different blocks in one school day, we would rather have only three blocks per day,” Mason said.

Interim Superintendent James Marini continued by saying how the scheduling for each grade level––and how much time each core subject receives––is dependent on the rate of new cases within Massachusetts and the district specifically.

“If the number of cases and deaths in Massachusetts start to fall at a steady rate, the school committee can adjust the plans for reopening and start to create more consistent and steady schedules for each grade level,” Marini said.

Marini said that all of the principals, BSC board members and representatives from the Brookline Educators Union (BEU) will meet to finalize the safety precautions and practices for the new school year.

Casey Ngo-Miller, Interim Deputy Superintendent For Student Services, presented potential schedules and practices for each building and grade level from kindergarten through 8th-grade. She stressed how allocating time for wellness and community engagement activities in the fall will be crucial for student development and success.

“We should plan for class periods to be flexible with regards to the ratio of actual instructional time and wellness or community engagement activities,” Ngo-Miller said. “In the previous semester, many students and teachers addressed concerns for themselves and others about the lack of emotional support, so making time for that is essential.”

Ngo-Miller continued by sharing the schedules for each grade level, with the kindergarten through 8th-grade schools using Wednesday as a project-based learning time. The high school would use it as a transitional period for students and a time for custodians to clean the buildings.

During the two hour transitional period at the high school, Ngo-Miller emphasized how guidance counselors and other educators should be available for students.

“During this time at the high school, students from both cohorts should have the opportunity to speak with their guidance counselors about emotional trauma or stress,” Ngo-Miller said. “This could be challenging because of the safety precautions and organizing meeting times, but it is important.”

Head of School Anthony Meyer shared his opinions on how remote learning has impacted the student body and how the school should approach this widespread problem.

“When school does return, I would like our guidance department to prioritize the mental health of students in every situation,” Meyer said. “I know many people that have struggled with staying at home every single day and the lack of connections and relationships with others is damaging to an adolescent mind.”

Erin Cooley, the Director of Data Analysis & Information Management described a pathway for students who decide to continue remote learning for the fall semester.

“For families and their children that want to continue with remote learning for the rest of the semester, we should construct meeting times in between assignments for emotional support and talking with their guidance counselors or other guidance faculty members,” Cooley said.

Cooley explained how the special education department has struggled with remote learning and having them come back before other students is essential to their growth and development.

“Having the curriculum stay the same is crucial to enrichment and paths to success, so having those students come back before others is very important,” Cooley said. “Many students need to have more individualized attention and time for them to express themselves.”

Cooley continued with the slideshow presentation by saying how English Language Learner (ELL) students should also have priority when returning back to the school buildings.

“The school committee has also prioritized having back as soon as possible for some of the same reasons, but especially because learning a new language without support is increasingly difficult with remote learning and having longer periods of time without assessments,” Cooley said.

When school does return, I would like our guidance department to prioritize the mental health of students in every situation. I know many people that have struggled with staying at home every single day and the lack of connections and relationships with others is damaging to an adolescent mind.”

— Anthony Meyer, Head of School

For economically disadvantaged families and individuals, the BSC promised to continue to provide daily meals at district locations, loan out technology to students and have Steps To Success advisors have weekly check-ins with the involved families.

Michelle Herman, Director of Professional Development went into further detail about pathways for students that continue with remote learning or if they contract COVID-19. Herman suggested pathways for students to be frequently tested and how they will return back to school.

Marini shared how the BSC had thought of every scenario and had to focus on the most important factors for reopening with the hybrid model in mind.

“We will not be able to satisfy the needs of everyone, so in creating our plans, we stuck with our values and norms of the district,” Marini said. “We have talked about every scenario possible and we believe is the best plan for everyone at the moment.”