School year reduced to 170 days

Students will go back later to give schools 10 days to train staff and bolster public health protocols. 

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Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith says the 10 days of professional development would be used to ensure staff and student safety.

The state teachers’ unions reached an agreement with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reducing the school year to 170 days, to give educators time to plan for the reopening. 

In a newsletter post written by Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) president Merrie Najimy, she says that the MTA, the Massachusetts American Federation of Teachers, and the Boston Teachers Union are signing a memorandum of understanding that reduces the number of required days in the school year from 180 to 170, and to 850 hours (for elementary schools) and 935 hours (for secondary schools), so long as districts begin providing instruction to students no later than Sept. 16, 2020. 

The unions have also made other demands that have not yet been agreed upon, such as forgoing the requirement for full, in-person teaching, and canceling the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Standardized (MCAS) testing for the 2020–21 school year. 

Although nothing is solidified for schools on-Island quite yet, Assistant Superintendent Richie Smith said that the most valuable use of that time will be to ensure the safety of everyone who enters the school. He said that only when the All-Island School Committee discusses the agreement and gives its stamp of approval can the schools begin to work toward finalizing these plans. 

“We won’t know about this for sure until the school committee hears it and approves. We aren’t sure yet if we are going to use all 10 of those days,” Smith said. “In any case, we are going to make sure that our staff and students are safe.”

When people refer to professional development, Smith said, folks often think of content and pedagogy first, and although those are valuable, the most valuable use of that time will be establishing proper safety guidelines and deciding how to implement them.

“I think it was a good call by the education commissioner [Jeffrey Riley]. Every minute of that time will be to ensure our staff is trained to not only keep one another safe, but to keep kids safe when they return,” Smith said. “Our school nurses and boards of health have worked closely together over the past few months, and that is going to provide a huge opportunity to support our school staff.”

School committee chair Kimberly Kirk said that the guidance issued by the commissioner and the agreement reached are both still new, and committee members and school officials will be parsing the information in preparation for a number of meetings this week. 

“I think the guidance made everyone feel good, because it allowed us to take the time to be thoughtful and responsible in any approach we take moving forward,” Kirk said. “It’s going to be a collaborative approach across the board, and we are lucky to have an amazing task to make sure teachers, students, and administrators are working together to provide a safe return for everyone.”

Kirk said that with so much anxiety in the community surrounding the reopening of school, she and other school officials will continue to follow the guidance of state and local health officials, and work to fit them to our Island school system.

“Guidelines are guidelines, but in the end it is how you enact them in your community and make them work for you,” Kirk said.

Parents have been invited to attend a school reopening forum via Zoom at 5 pm today, and the All-Island School Committee meeting will be held at 5 pm on Thursday.