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Educators are not ‘sleepwalking’ — they’re treading warily in a crisis

Re “Listen to the data on school reopening” (Editorial, Aug. 14): None of us teachers asked to “sleepwalk into another year of inferior learning.” That’s a disingenuous way of describing what happened in the spring, but it also misses the point of the current debate.

If the state and districts had decided to adopt fully remote learning in June or July, we could have focused our collective attention on fixing what didn’t work and refining what did. Instead, we’re lost in a sea of incomplete proposals and unanswered questions.

The district where I work is requiring mask-wearing but won’t commit to enforcing the policy. Imagine requiring students to be up-to-date on vaccinations and not enforcing that policy. Nor as yet has there been any word on testing.

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The argument to “bank as much in-person learning time as possible now . . . before flu season hits” willfully ignores the danger we all still live with. Teaching and learning isn’t like ducking out to walk the dog before a storm hits. The storm is already here, only subsided. Teachers, students, and families have every right to advocate for a fully remote start to the school year, and, yes, unfortunately, that could continue for a long time.

Our government has utterly bungled our response to COVID-19. No matter how much we may want to go back to so-called normal, don’t insist that teachers and students — and everyone they interact with — take the fall for a national failure.

Max Roberts

Natick

The writer is a high school history teacher in the MetroWest area.


Boston students need on-site learning this fall

As a veteran teacher in the Boston Public Schools, and as a parent of three who will have graduated from BPS, I write to share my strong support for reopening schools in the city this fall. I think the proposal to reduce density by having students attend school two days a week is workable, and I am frustrated that recent reports would suggest that all or even most teachers oppose such a proposal. We owe it to our students and children to do all that we can to figure this out.

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If there is agreement that decisions about whether to reopen schools should be informed by data and science, then it seems prudent to move forward with a phased approach that would allow for any adjustments that might be necessary. This, coupled with sensible practices such as the universal wearing of masks, maintaining social distance, and appropriate cleaning measures, should go a long way in protecting our students and school staff.

To continue with an all-remote or even mostly remote approach for a prolonged period will bring both emotional harm and real academic consequences for our students. The ongoing disruption of these kids’ education and the isolation many will experience with remote learning pose real risks to their well-being.

I’d urge our elected officials and the Boston School Committee to give substantial weight to these considerations, much as they are giving to the risk posed by the coronavirus itself.

Robin Kirkpatrick

Roslindale

The writer teaches at Boston Latin School.


Boston schools don’t have the resources to guarantee safe return

Recently, on the subject of Boston schools reopening, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said that he didn’t want this issue to become “political.” However, if the pressure on schools to reopen is driven by the issue of parents needing to return to the workforce because they cannot afford to stay out of work, then it is already political.

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These decisions, based as they are on socioeconomic discrimination, stem from systemic racism, since those most economically challenged and at risk in Boston are the most adversely affected by their implications. This creates unnecessary conflict between parents and teachers, when actually the plans are being forced on them from above.

If child care is the issue, let’s address that. If there is a lack of effectiveness in remote schooling, address that. These consequences of socioeconomic disparity must be addressed, as thousands of lives are affected by these decisions. This pandemic is shining a light on problems already extant in the Boston Public Schools, such as outdated infrastructure and a lack of essential resources, nurses, and custodial staff.

Boston Public Schools doesn’t have the resources to guarantee the safety of students, teachers, or staff. Will we sacrifice the lives of Massachusetts residents for the sake of the economy? For the future of our city, our society, and our nation, we must make decisions that are brave and righteous.

We have a responsibility to protect our children and their caretakers, including parents and teachers. We must work to solve the problems that exist, not create new ones.

Kurt Davis

Dorchester


Baker administration has undermined confidence in its approach

Re “New guidance could limit online classes” (Page A1, Aug. 13): Basing school districts’ reopening plans on each locale’s COVID-19 infection rate is eminently sensible. But the caveats are so significant that teachers understandably question Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley’s guidance.

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First, local infection rates are only one critical parameter, as we know from countries such as Denmark, Germany, and Finland, where schools have successfully reopened. Other parameters are classrooms with high-level ventilation to dilute potential viral aerosols; small groups of students (10 to 15 people) that remain together exclusively, with the required educator staffing levels; and frequent handwashing.

Second, the Baker administration has undermined confidence in its approach, by issuing apparently lax instructions (for example, that students could be spaced 3 feet apart, whereas Denmark requires 6.5 feet, or 2 meters); by withholding information on COVID-19 transmission in child care centers; by delaying provision of easily visualized town-by-town COVID-19 infections until Aug. 11; by failing to issue mandatory workplace safety rules during reopening to affirm a culture of prioritizing workplace safety that would reassure teachers; and by declining to publish clear reopening guidelines overall that would provide the public with a sense of transparency and accountability.

It’s never too late for these measures — a good time for each of them could be to start now.

Dr. Julia Koehler

Boston

The writer is an infectious disease specialist at a Boston hospital and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.


After months of schools scrambling to prepare, state drops a ‘metrics’ bomb

For months, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley has issued school reopening guidelines in dribs and drabs. Eventually, he gave districts a deadline to submit three plans for the start of the school year: fully remote, hybrid, fully in-person. Two days before that deadline, when nearly every district had developed, shared, modified, voted on, and submitted its plans, he dropped a “metrics” bomb that, in effect, said to a huge part of the state, “Forget about the other two plans. You should be starting fully in person.”

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To do that, schools will need to ignore public health guidance around both physical distance and ventilation as well as our governor’s new restrictions on indoor gatherings of more than 25 people.

Because the commissioner dragged his feet, schools are now scrambling to flesh out plans for an exceedingly complex start to the year. In the district in which I teach, we’ll have 10 days to completely retool the in-person educational experience, while simultaneously developing a robust remote learning system.

This failure of leadership will have enormous adverse consequences on the academic, physical, and emotional well-being of all of our students. And our school committees, our district administrators, our families and, of course, our teachers are left to pick up the pieces.

Trish Lagrant

Ware

The writer is a special education teacher and a parent of two children in the public school system.