Watertown Public School students will have chances to continue learning from home while the schools are closed for two weeks in an effort to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, but Superintendent Dede Galdston said it will not be considered part of the regular classes, nor impact grades.
Students at Watertown High School have the Chromebooks, and efforts will be made to get the laptop computers to all Watertown Middle School students to use while they are out of school. Teachers are planning activities for the elementary school students, Galdston added.
“Our intent is to keep learning alive, but it is not mandatory and not considered instruction,” Galdston said. “In order to provide equity in access, we are not allowed to provide remote learning as a replacement to in person education.”
She added that student’s homework and test scores will not be negatively impacted by their participation in the learning opportunities during the school closure.
The first four days of the school closing, through Wednesday, March 18, will be considered akin to snow days, Galdston said during a special School Committee meeting held on Friday afternoon. Teachers and staff will not have to work during those days, she added.
The plan is to be closed through March 27, but Galdston said that she would not encourage families to go on a two-week vacation during that time. School Committee Chair John Portz said that at the end of the two weeks school officials will reassess if the schools will open at that point.
“I think people understand it is an evolving situation,” Portz said.
While the schools will be closed, the Central Administration office will be open, Galdston said.
Students who need to get something from the school can contact the school principal to set up a time to come in, Galdston said. People who need to get their children’s medicine from school should contact Kathleen Demarais to set up a time with the School Nurse to pick it up. Her email is Kathleen.email@example.com
The school closing also impacts rentals of school facilities, Galdston said, because there is not enough custodial resources to clean after evening events.
Portz said that the School Committee will continue to hold meetings, and the next one is on March 23 at Town Hall. The meeting will be broadcast live on Watertown Cable.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said a few meetings about the school building projects have been postponed, including a March 19 forum at Hosmer School, a School Building Committee meeting at the High School on March 26 and a School Building Committee meeting at Cunniff School on April 2.
They will be rescheduled when it is safe to have large groups of people gather, Sideris said.
School Schedule & Activities
She also said that the Mass. Commissioner of Education said that schools will have to make up days only through the planned 185th day of school, which in Watertown is June 22. She also stressed that students will be graduating, but what that will look like and when will is yet to be determined.
“I know this is very disappointing to many students,” Galdston said, who added there have been questions about the Advanced Placement classes, college applications and the prom that will have to be answered. She did not expand on those areas.
Some activities will be cancelled and others will be delayed. She noted that the MIAA has delayed the start of the spring sports season so tryouts will not occur until March 30 at the earliest.
Galdston also gave more information about the decision to close the schools for two weeks, which she said was done after consulting with educators from other districts, and state education officials.
“There was not necessarily a concern of COVID-19 in the schools. Yes there was a one case in the community, but we wanted to make sure we provided opportunities for social distancing (keeping 6 feet or more from other people in public),” Galdston said.
The Commissioner of Education instructed Massachusetts school districts not to have gatherings of 250 people or more, and Watertown’s smallest school is 300 students.
She urged students to remain at home with their families, as much as possible, as part of the social distancing.
“That means that students should not be visiting friends, not be gathering at playgrounds or parks or gathering in public spaces like the library or the mall,” Galdston said.
Portz asked whether April Vacation would be impacted due to the loss of school days. Galdston said that is up in the air, but the Commissioner of Education has given districts flexibility to not go to 180 days of school this year.
“With the Commission’s flexibility it would be something that wouldn’t be required but could considered for educational soundness,” said Galdston, who added. “It is always diffucult to cancel vacations.”
The Watertown Public Schools will continue to run the Free Lunch program for students who qualify.
Families will be able to pick up food at Watertown High School, Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The pick-up station will be at the entrance in the faculty parking lot at WHS, off of Barnard Street (just off Columbia Street).
She added that families who need help with meals who are not part of the program can also participate, given the situation that may arise in grocery stores in the area.
Those who cannot go at that time can make arrangements by contacting the Schools at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Watertown Food Pantry will also be open during its normal hours, Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. and Thursdays 4-6 p.m.
Tuition Programs Refunds
School officials said that programs that parents pay a tuition to enroll their children, such as PreK or the Extended Day Program, will be prorated and families will be refunded based on the number of days that are missed. Galdston said the prorating will begin Wednesday, because the first four days will be made up through the end of the school year.