July 27, 2020
Dear APS families, faculty and staff,
I hope you are having a good summer. As you hear more about fall school opening issues on the news, I know you are interested in learning more about the district’s planning and the guidance we are receiving from the state. To keep you informed, I want to share new information districts across Massachusetts have received from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and Governor Baker’s office. Recently, DESE has sent communications that offer specific guidance in our preparation for our return to school. Detailed information is posted on our website and a summary of these communications is below. I also want to highlight the district’s efforts and initiatives this summer and the ways our families can provide feedback.
Our goal remains to continue to provide engaging, high quality education and related services for all. There are many issues to take into consideration including class schedules, remote or in-class instruction, transportation, extracurricular activities, social-distancing, and the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff to name just a few. The district is required to submit an initial feasibility study for in-person, hybrid, and remote learning to DESE by July 31st, with a final plan submitted by August 10th. At this time, we are still in the planning phase and no final decision on what the plan is has been made. The School Committee will be discussing return to school planning at its meeting on July 30th and then voting on a plan on August 6th.
Multiple DESE guidance and protocols have been released to districts in the past week. Below are summaries of these documents. For more detailed information, please click on the links in each summary, which will provide you with DESE’s full guidance.
On July 24th, Governor Baker issued a Mandatory 14-Day Quarantine for travelers entering Massachusetts beginning August 1, 2020. This order applies to residents and non-residents of Massachusetts, unless the person is coming from a state designated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health designated as a COVID-19 low risk state. The full text of this order can be reviewed here.
DESE’s Fall Remote Learning Guidance released on July 24th, defines remote learning as “time during which students are engaged in regularly scheduled instruction, learning activities, or learning assessments with the curriculum for study of ‘core subjects’ and ‘other subjects’.” Currently, DESE has outlined the minimum school year as 180 days, and students must receive a minimum of 900 hours of structured learning time for elementary students and 990 hours of structured learning time for secondary students. These requirements are regardless of whether a district’s learning model is in-person, hybrid, or remote. DESE may consider modifications to these requirements, in order to allow the district to provide our educators with professional development in remote learning.
DESE also issued guidance on July 24th for courses that require additional safety considerations, such as Physical Education and Arts (chorus, band, theater, dance, and visual arts) classes. The focus of this guidance is for courses that require enhanced health and safety measures due to increased respiration or sharing of equipment and includes guidance specific to each type of course. These guidelines are designed to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
DESE’s transportation guidance , released on July 22nd, poses a challenge to our district in terms of physical distancing of students and bus capacity. The district uses 71 passenger buses to transport our students, and the DESE diagram below shows the limited capacity of these buses under recent DESE guidance. DESE is also requiring that bus windows remain open during transit (unless during extreme weather) and students, regardless of age, will be required to wear masks. Given the limited number of vehicles available to the district, it will be necessary to change transportation policies to limit ridership or significantly stagger school times or both for in-person or hybrid learning models.
On July 17th, DESE issued Fall Reopening Facilities and Operations guidance, which contain critical health and safety requirements for all school facilities. These requirements include the wearing of masks or face coverings for all staff and for students grades 2-12. Pre-K - 1 grade students are recommended to wear masks. This guidance also outlines physical distancing and hand washing, sanitizing and ventilation protocols.
DESE has also defined protocols for responding to COVID-19 scenarios in schools, on the bus, or in community settings, released on July 17th. This document outlines a number of protocols from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) for districts to respond should our students or staff become symptomatic or require a COVID-19 test.
I recognize all this information can be overwhelming and disconcerting. The district has been hard at work throughout the summer to implement initiatives that will assist our students, families and staff with the return to school.
One of the first initiatives we pursued was securing a learning management system that would make it much easier and more consistent for teachers, parents and students to work remotely or in a hybrid situation. Following weeks of research into the various options for a learning management system, the district has decided to move forward with Schoology. We know our faculty, families and students are looking for a clear, consistent digital platform. We anticipate that Schoology will be implemented during the 2020-21 school year and we will provide further details and opportunities for parent/ guardian education on the platform.
Schoology has many key features that are an excellent match to our district needs based on survey feedback. It provides a simple, visual interface where students can access all of their instructional tools with ease inside their Schoology account and separate logins will no longer be needed. Parents and guardians will have a simple and clear portal view, so they can easily view their children’s assignments, due dates, progress on assignments, and grades.
Since Schoology is a tool that can be used in any setting (in-person, hybrid or remote), the platform also allows teachers and students to engage in various forms of learning, such as differentiated, flipped or blended learning formats.
In addition, a task force of sixty parents, teachers and administrators have been collaborating on a draft of all three phases of DESE’s requirements (in-person, hybrid and remote) and these drafts will inform the feasibility study, as well as the final plan. As this work continues, we will keep you informed of presentations on the plans. We recognize that there are families and students who need to be taught through a remote model of instruction. We will provide for that need as we move forward with whatever other plans are put in place for the opening.
Finally, it is important that we understand from our parents their potential choices of in-person or remote instruction as well as of their willingness to ride the bus. The district will be sending our families a survey in the coming weeks outlining our initial options and requesting your feedback. Your participation will assist the district in our preparation of resources.
Please email COVIDemail@example.com 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, return to school planning will be discussed at upcoming School Committee meetings on July 30th, August 6th and August 19th.
The start of the 2020-21 school year will undoubtedly be very different from anything our students, staff and families have experienced. We appreciate your patience as we work to create a safe learning environment for our students and staff.