By Adam Steiner and Phil Ottaviani Jr.
FRAMINGHAM – As parents of current Framingham Public Schools students, we have seen firsthand the burden of COVID-related school closures on kids’ well-being and state of mind. Months without social interaction and face to face learning have impacted kids in ways that will take many years to understand.
In addition, as City Councilors, we share a feeling of responsibility for the current situation and pledge to work together with all stakeholders to do better for our kids as we move forward into 2021 – a new, and hopefully much better year for all of us.
In particular, the prioritized availability of vaccination to K-12 teachers in the coming months, and the availability of vaccination to all MA residents 16 and up by this summer (with potential for approval of the vaccine for children on the horizon) should allow us to deepen our commitment to in-person learning and make firm plans for the coming school year.
While there is still hope for some in-person learning before the end of the school year, we also need to begin planning for September 2021 with a common vision: Students who wish to return to full-time in-person learning in the fall should be able to do so; students who prefer a hybrid model or remote learning should also be able to do so.
Our school department and our city should make this statement clearly, consistently, and without hesitation.
For many reasons, we do not want to lose Framingham students to private schools and other districts, and a strong statement– soon!– is necessary to provide parents and families with the confidence to stick with Framingham Public Schools for the long haul.
We should make it crystal clear – this is not about casting blame for what has already happened.
Our municipal health department put forth tremendous effort to protect public safety.
Our school department attempted to respond to changing circumstances and DESE regulations as effectively as possible.
Our teachers did their absolute best to educate Framingham children under very difficult circumstances.
We feel lucky to have skilled municipal and school leaders and amazing teachers in Framingham.
But, we need clear communication to parents, students, and teachers that teacher and administrator access to vaccination will be a lever to greater in-person learning this spring, and that, come hell or high water, there will be in-person teaching and learning at the heart of the instructional model for the 2021-2022 school year.
This vision for in-person learning should be accompanied by communication and collaboration with our instructional leaders and teaching staff to make this a positive and safe experience for all educators and students. Some restrictions may be necessary including daily health checks, modified schedules, and mask-wearing. These should be developed in partnership with city health officials and school department administrators now and not be addressed at the last minute.
We do need to acknowledge, too, that in hindsight this situation of prolonged remote learning represents a failure on the part of all of the adults of our community, particularly in meeting the needs of our most at-risk students, including students with substantial disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and students who suffered from mental health setbacks in a remote learning environment.
Despite the challenging times, we as a community need to do better, take ownership, and make amends for not serving these students well.
We should be making plans to offer intense, in-person remediation programs and enrichment opportunities that emphasize social connection for students in Summer 2021 to begin to make up for a year of lost learning and lack of connection for many of our students. This will be an important foundation as we begin the next school year.
As we look ahead to September 2021, the question should not be IF students will have the option to return to school but HOW. We should be asking AND answering the question of how we will make our students and teachers comfortable and safe in returning and how we will
support their health, well-being, and academic success. Do we need additional equipment? Professional development? Funding? Personnel? Do we need to lengthen the school day? Do we need to provide a dedicated, non-”beam-in” distance learning model for families who choose it? We need to answer all of these questions.
We are confident that this community and our city and school department leadership can make it happen if it is clear that we have a shared, well-articulated, and clearly defined goal.
Let’s make it happen. We know there are hundreds of students, teachers, and parents – and at least 2 City Councilors who happen to also be Framingham Public Schools parents – looking for this commitment.
We stand ready to help make a better spring of 2021 and a FANTASTIC, rich, in-person summer and 2021-2022 school year happen for all of our Framingham kids.
Adam Steiner is the elected City Council for District 3. Phil Ottaviani Jr. is the elected City Councilor for District 6. Both are parents of Framingham Public Schools students.