Updated 5 pm
A decision on how to reopen schools in September is looming and expected to be debated tonight at 5 pm. In a letter ahead of that meeting, some Island educators are weighing in and calling for no in-person teaching this fall.
The all-island school committee is scheduled to meet tonight to discuss the reopening plans. On Thursday, a letter was posted on the Martha’s Vineyard Educators’ Association (MVEA) Facebook page opposing the idea of students and teachers returning to the classroom and calling for all-remote learning. The letter was not officially endorsed by the MVEA.
The school year will start with 10 professional development days. The letter, which is signed by 23 teachers, recommends using that time to plan “a robust, engaging, and rigorous remote model for our students.”
The teachers acknowledge that remote teaching is not ideal. “Remote learning is not the best way to teach our students regardless of the grade level, but we are not in normal times,” the letter states. “In-person learning amidst COVID regulations is also not the best way to address our standards and care for the social-emotional well-being of our students. While we are in the middle of a global pandemic, no model is perfect, but health and safety must come first!”
According to the letter, a survey of staff found 66% of staff stated they would prefer remote teaching in the fall. “Additionally, 72.3% of staff stated they were ‘very uncomfortable or uncomfortable’ in returning to school in-person in the fall,” the letter states.
The letter rejects the idea that Martha’s Vineyard is at lower risk.
“It was stated at the AISC meeting that the lower risk on Martha’s Vineyard is a green light to be back in the school buildings. We do not agree,” the letter states.
The letter points to recent reports of more cases on the Island. “The continued uptick in cases on the Island is alarming, and we have not even tested all of our children on Martha’s Vineyard,” the letter states. “Quick turnaround testing seems imperative for any chance of re-entry success.”
The all-island school committee has held two recent meetings wrestling with the best way to start the school year. The state set a deadline for districts to submit plans for Thursday, Aug. 13.
The current proposed reopening plan (which must be voted on by each individual school district) still has students going to a remote learning model on Sept. 17, with all students back in the physical buildings by Oct. 27. Under the proposed plan, K-2 (K-3 for the up-Island district) students would transition to a hybrid learning model on Sept. 29. Grades 3-5 would switch to the hybrid on Oct. 13, and students in grades 6-8 and all high schoolers would transition on Oct. 27.
As of now, schools would utilize four cohorts: Students in cohorts A and B would be fully engaged in the hybrid model. Cohort A would attend school in person on Monday and Tuesday, and cohort B would attend school in person on Thursday and Friday. Cohort C would serve high-needs students who may require additional support, or may need to get back to in-person learning as soon as possible.
The letter from the teachers quotes Caroline Buckee, associate director of the Center of Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health who said: “We should be aiming for no transmission before we open the schools and we put our kids in harm’s way — kids and teachers and their caregivers.”
The letter thanks those who have been putting in the work planning for the new school year. “We have collectively taught for hundreds of years and never had to ask if we were putting ourselves, our family, our students and our community at risk by teaching in-person,” the letter states. “We agree with Ayanna Pressley, US Congresswoman serving Massachusetts, that ‘the safety and health of our children, educators and community must come first. Therefore, I believe we must begin the school year with fully remote instruction.’”
The educators also point to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association that says “nearly 12,000 children in New England have tested positive for the coronavirus through July 30. Massachusetts had the bulk of the childhood COVID cases, with 6,903.”
They also point to a recent report in the New York Times: “Infected children have at least as much of the coronavirus in their noses and throats as infected adults, according to the research. Indeed, children younger than age 5 may host up to 100 times as much of the virus in the upper respiratory tract as adults, the authors found.”
The letter suggests opening the year fully remote and reevaluating after the fall.
Updated to clarify that the letter is from teachers, but not the teachers association.