OP-ED: Framingham’s Phased Reopening; Is It In The Best Interest of Our Students?

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By Christine Mulroney

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FRAMINGHAM – Before last year, most teachers had a rhythm: an early start to the day for most, whether to care for family, or to review any final needs for their classes and students, or to do some basic self-care such as working out or preparing a healthy lunch. Educators think through their day, organizing materials, planning alterations needed for particular learning styles, and thinking about their students who will soon arrive in the classroom
to start the day. Often, a teacher will catch a peer to quickly check in about a student. They share ideas and techniques. When the bell rings, the halls are filled with the lively sounds of students, all talking at once. Educators greet students as they supervise the hallways. Students hang by their lockers and teachers herd them into their classrooms is not as easy as it sounds! The day begins, and we love this rush.

It is different now. As has often been repeated, we are in a “new normal” these days. Educators are isolated in their homes, talking to students over the internet on Zoom or Google Meet. The student arrival is extremely different. Instead of the attempts to herd them from hallways into the room, educators are troubleshooting internet issues families are having, or helping students find and log into the class. Planning in the virtual world
is drastically different as well, often taking educators far longer to have materials and lessons ready than what it typically took in a brick & mortar building.

Teachers are resilient – they are making it work and students are learning. Educators have been able to create the safe & consistent learning environments students need in their virtual classrooms. Educators have adapted, and continue to adapt, using this opportunity to learn about and employ new tools to provide needed support . And while workload challenges remain large, a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning, to allow for educators to be more effective in their practice, can be achieved.

Just as we began to settle into our “new normal”, some staff & students were told on October 5th to return to the classroom. Not all the buildings had the upgrades suggested by an independent HVAC consultant, yet approximately 141 students and 247 staff returned to 8 of our buildings. They have been back for 3 weeks. And then on Friday October 23rd, the news (news that on some level we anticipated and feared) comes – that a classroom at FHS would need to move to full remote again due to a COVID19 exposure. This happened at a time when less than 1% of the student population was in the building.

Now, students and educators need to yet again adjust to virtual learning – but this time, only for 2 weeks.

On November 5, in-person classroom learning will resume, and teachers, students, and staff will all need to once again relearn routines and rituals.
However, joining them on November 5th will be a second phase of high needs students in almost all buildings. These are students with learning challenges, emotional regulation challenges, among other conditions. An additional 424 students and 247 staff members were notified that they will start in person learning. This brings the total to 565 students and 396 staff members in classrooms and in buildings. The context for all this includes Framingham’s rising positivity rate.

It has been said that the decision to move forward with the November 5th reopening partially rests on the Framingham Board of Health’s position that no cases COVID19 have come about from in-school staff and student contact.

While this may have been the case, it’s worth a closer look at the population that returned on October 5th. The two programs that resumed were the autism programs and the multiple disability programs. Students in these programs are usually fairly sheltered by their families. They don’t usually hang with their peers at the park or the mall. They usually are at home with their families, with limited exposure. That is not to say they COULDN’T be exposed to COVID19, just that they may statistically be more limited in their exposure. It makes sense then, that the Framingham Board of Health did not see any cases as of Friday, October 23rd, of either a staff member or a student being COVID19 positive.

Statewide data of student and staff testing positive for COVID19 is available on the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education website and is updated weekly. In the week of October 15th to October 21st, 129 students and 73 staff members statewide were reported to have tested positive for COVID19. In the preceding week, October 8-14, 92 students and 68 staff were reported to have tested positive. In just one week, 40% more students were reported to have tested positive for COVID19.

Look at this data and think about the implications; the number of students who will enter school buildings on November 5 creates a ticking time bomb. How long will it be before your family has to isolate or quarantine again, and restructure your world around virtual learning until your child can return to school? How many times do you think this will happen?

All children in Framingham deserve consistency and structure – and our high needs students depend on it. A return to school now will not offer them this, in fact, it will be quite the opposite. The year will be a constant back and forth of in-person learning, until there is an exposure, followed by 2 weeks of quarantine for educators and students, then a return to the in-person structure. How is this turmoil in the best interest of our children? Let’s keep our kids in safe, consistent and structured learning environments and keep them home. Lives in our community could depend on it.

Educators, like everyone else, want nothing more than a return to the previous normality and in-person learning environment. However, what they want most of all, is to develop a safe and consistent routine and classroom environment for your children to learn in. And the safest place is at home until this pandemic is under control.

Christine Mulroney is the President of the Framingham Teachers Association

editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176

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