Walsh: Equity, quality, data must guide school restart

Massachusetts

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BOSTON (SHNS) – Mindful that a decision is needed “fairly quickly,” Boston Mayor Marty Walsh on Wednesday ruled out the option of schools in the city reopening under a full in-person model and said equity, data and quality need to guide efforts as students resume classes next month in a system with 125 separate schools.

“We will either be starting with a hybrid model or a period of all-remote learning,” Walsh said during a press conference outside Boston City Hall, noting students haven’t been inside school buildings for six months. He later emphasized that schools must recognize the racial equity crisis as officials also take precautions against the deadly virus.

“We have to get this right. Our kids are depending on us doing this,” Walsh said.

Boston is one of 29 moderate risk COVID-19 communities, under a new color-coded state risk assessment system, and the city has about 50,000 students who are awaiting word on city plans to continue their education.

The mayor on Wednesday said the city is “still doing very well” with COVID-19, but infection risks remain and an all in-person model “could be dangerous to our families and kids.”

Walsh ticked through a list of back-to-school supplies the district is purchasing to equip school buildings for the return of students. They included include vinyl separators and 5,000 pieces of plexiglass, properly ventilated isolation spaces in nurse offices, filters for HVAC systems, sanitizing stations at school entrances and exits, and electrostatic sprayers that the mayor said “kills the virus instantly.”

On a couple of occasions during his press conference, Walsh mentioned the possiblity of a “hopscotch model,” under which class sizes can be halved with students in schools two days a week and learning from home the other three days. Walsh said class sizes would be further reduced as some parents opt out of that model.

He also said individual school buildings will need to obtain inspection certificates before reopening. “We will not send students or teachers or staff into a building that is not safe,” he said.

Walsh said the school reopening decision is complicated by a range of factors, including the fact that many students receive two meals a day at school, the growing academic achievement gap, and the fact that students rely on after-school programs for social activities.

“If we’re all remote learning, and we might have to be, we need to make sure that the remote learning side is working because the achievement gap for our Black and Latino students is going to grow even wider,” he said.

The mayor added: “It’s about keeping our kids and keeping our teachers and keeping their grandparents safe, quite honestly. So we will get there.” He called the decision on reopening “no question, one of the hardest decisions that we have to make moving forward.”

Another factor: challenges facing working parents if their children are required to learn remotely. Walsh said the city is working with child care providers to explore options.

Boston schools are scheduled to reopen on Sept. 10. Walsh said he understands families need time to prepare for whatever school model that city officials choose. He acknowledged a decision must be made soon but added that daily COVID-19 data is influencing city officials as they try to make the call.

“The spring was a crisis response,” the mayor said. “This fall will be more planned and more supported because we’ve had the time to sit down and work, and we needed to continue to sit down with all of our unions, our teachers, and all of our unions to make sure that a month from now, however we open school, our kids are going to learn at the highest quality. We know that there is going to be remote learning this year. We hope that there’ll be in-person learning this year, or at least I hope that there’ll be in-person learning this year. We are planning and preparing to make sure that both of them work and it’s high quality.”

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