July 13, 2020
Dear APS staff and families,
I hope this email finds you and your families safe and healthy and enjoying the summer. I hope we can feel some relief that the efforts taken by the state and by our community over the closing months of the school year had a positive impact on the direction of the Coronavirus in Massachusetts and offer an opportunity for a fall opening of school that may be less compromised. I know that our success as a community and as a state in responding to the pandemic has called on all of us to make significant personal sacrifices for the greater common good. As we watch the virus surge in states around the country, we realize that we are still far from overcoming the challenges the virus presents to us and that we will still have to address these challenges over the coming year. With that in mind, I want to update the community on our efforts to plan for the return to school this fall.
On June 25th, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released preliminary guidance for the reopening of all Massachusetts school districts. I encourage our families to review this information. In summary, all schools in Massachusetts are required to draft three components in the plan for return to school in the fall: An in-person learning plan with safety requirements, a hybrid learning plan in which students learn partially in-person and partially remotely, and a complete remote learning plan. The plans are due to DESE at the end of this month. Last Friday, DESE also released a Frequently Asked Questions document, which can be viewed here.
The DESE guidance did not address a few key areas of interest to our community and critical to our planning efforts, including the school year calendar, time-on-learning, transportation, athletics, extracurricular activities and guidance for special programs and student supports. DESE plans to release more information in the coming weeks that will provide detailed directives for districts in these areas. The directives from DESE must also align with the directives from our local departments of Public Safety and Andover’s Health Division.
Throughout the summer, our district leadership, educators and parent-delegates will be working to draft these plans as part of the Return to School Task Force Working Group. The sixty-member Working Group will focus on six specific areas:
- Health and Safety: Student and staff safety will remain the primary factor in making recommendations. Safety efforts that focus on reopening will include cleaning protocols, screening of individuals entering facilities, protective equipment, including when and how to properly use it, and parameters for social distancing.
- Logistics: School districts will have to procure safety equipment that allows for the continuation of learning. This area will also focus on cleaning procedures, food service implementation and configuration of classrooms and learning spaces.
- Learning Tools: This area will focus on the resources our educators and students will need to ensure active learning in any of the three possible scenarios (in-person, hybrid, and remote) and will include a review of learning management systems (LMS), remote learning applications, professional development for educators, and technology with a focus on ensuring equity for all APS students.
- Social-Emotional Learning & Mental Health: APS will implement an entry plan that considers students’ social-emotional learning needs in the context of recent and ongoing events. Trauma has had an impact on our students, as students may have struggled with family challenges, such as job loss, loss of a loved one, and loss of focus and motivation for academic achievement. In addition to preparing for the social and emotional needs of students, APS will focus on the needs of staff members that have experienced trauma as a result of COVID-19.
- Instruction: We learned a great deal from the remote instruction the district provided over the past three months of the 2019-20 school year. We have identified a number of strengths and weaknesses in our delivery that we can build on if required to do so again next year. The work of the Working Group will include the objective of capturing the strengths and mitigating the weaknesses so that we provide the highest quality of instruction whether that is in-person or remotely.
- Arts, Health and Physical Education: Arts, health and physical education are of central importance in a comprehensive education. Through these programs, students develop social cognition, empathy, language, expression, and motor skills. The working group will focus on how we can best support these areas of instruction within any of the three scenarios.
As these plans develop, we encourage feedback from the community. Please email COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or suggestions or join us for a public forum on Thursday, August 13, 2020 at 6 PM. We will send information on how to participate in this forum in the coming weeks. Additionally, updates will be provided at upcoming School Committee meetings on July 16th, July 30th and August 4th.
I know this has been a challenging time for all within our community. I appreciate your patience as the state and our district work through the development of plans for a safe and effective opening in the fall. I also want to acknowledge the diligence of the delegates to the Working Group and look forward to sharing their work with our families. You can always find updates by checking the district’s website. I will be in touch later in the month with additional information.
Although the virus has compromised the summer plans of many, I hope you find the time over the coming weeks to rest and enjoy family and friends.