School Committee discusses transition into hybrid model

The Brookline School Committee (BSC) convened over Zoom on Thursday, Oct 8 to discuss the Brookline Public Schools’ (BPS) transition into the hybrid model beginning on Oct 20. The BSC revealed plans to maintain health and safety in the school buildings and addressed the lesson planning process for teachers.

The meeting came after the BSC decision that freshmen will be returning to hybrid in-person instruction on Oct. 20, while grades 10-12 will be phased into the hybrid model on Nov. 9. Students will be divided into two cohorts, and each cohort will be in-person for a total of five days during a two-week cycle.

Deputy Superintendent for Student Services Casey Ngo-Miller said that the administration has taken key steps to maintain student safety. Students will wear masks while social distancing in classrooms. There will also be HVAC filter improvements, new cleaning protocols and preparation for outside learning.

Ngo-Miller said that all classroom spaces will be disinfected every night with electrostatic disinfectant spray, which adheres to surfaces for more effective cleaning. Additionally, every classroom will be equipped with cleaning products for spills and accidents, and personal protective equipment (PPE) will be supplied to staff.

Coordinator of Student Health Services Tricia Laham revealed the district’s plan for isolating students and faculty who present symptoms of COVID-19.

“When there’s a question on how to proceed, we’re going a little bit stricter. We would err on the side of caution when it comes to the decisions we’re making. There are some challenges to that, because every symptom could potentially mimic a COVID-19 symptom,” Laham said. “In the schools, we’ve created a protocol for when to send the students to the nurse. We’ve established medical waiting rooms for students or staff who we suspect could have COVID-19, so we’re keeping them separate from others.”

Head of School Anthony Meyer said that the high school’s international trips, including Chinese and French Exchanges, will not be taking place this year.

One point of contention was teachers’ readiness and willingness to return back to school. Ngo-Miller said that the district has added three teacher professional development days on Monday Oct. 19, Tuesday Nov. 3 and Friday Jan. 8 so educators can better prepare for instruction in the hybrid model. Moreover, the 12 p.m. dismissals on Wednesdays will give staff additional time for professional development.

Director of Curriculum and Instruction Michelle Herman provided a basic sketch of what instruction will look like under the hybrid model. She said each classroom will have half its students remote and half in-person on any given day, so teachers will have to plan for students who are simultaneously in two different modes. However, teachers and students will be consistently communicating.

“Students’ days will be driven by a schedule. They will have live touchpoints with teachers on a daily basis. On the days they’re remote, they will have the opportunity to actually check in with teachers,” Herman said.

Herman said that there will be more asynchronous and project-based learning on days when students are participating in class remotely. On in-person days, students will eat lunch in classrooms in most schools, and there will be an opportunity for additional breaks throughout the school day. Learning platforms like Seesaw, Canvas and Google Classroom will be used to manage work between students and teachers during the hybrid model.

Ngo-Miller said the shift will mean definite changes in teachers’ modes of instruction, but that the benefits of the hybrid model are its opportunities for community building.

“Teachers will plan a bit differently. They have students who are in two different modes throughout the week and a two-week cycle. Teachers will have to consider how learning will continue to extend on remote days. Time on learning does appear to be less when you’re looking at live time, especially with core academic teachers,” Ngo-Miller said. “However, there are many advantages to being in-person, especially social-emotional development. We might be fully remote again come Thanksgiving, so we’re trying to make this opportunity come to fruition.”

Head of School Anthony Meyer said he believes the buildings are ready to accommodate in-person learning.

“We’re shifting to hybrid sooner than I expected, and it doesn’t mean I don’t absolutely want to have kids in the building. I do. I think we all do. Safety is a fair concern, and it’s certainly our foundational value in all this,” Meyer said. “I would say, based on having been in the building, that I feel confident in our readiness for our buildings.”