Watertown students will continue with their online learning next week after the School Committee voted Monday night to skip April Vacation.
The decision will mean students will continue their remote lessons with teachers for four days next week, April 21-24. They will be off Monday for Patriot’s Day.
The decision does not add more days to the school year, and now the Watertown Public Schools will end on June 16, rather than June 22, according to Superintendent Dede Galdston.
The idea of cancelling spring break did not come up until Gov. Charlie Baker declared all schools in the state closed through May 4 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Galdston told the School Committee.
One of the benefits, Galdston said, is that students will be able to keep their online-learning routines going.
“The advantage to keeping it is to give people a break, as well as, if came back to school it would mean more time for face-to-face learning,” Galdston said. “The disadvantages are we just established phase 2 (of remote learning), and routines are starting to take shape. Our students are starting to engage, some high school classes have up to 80 percent of students participating. If we had April vacation it would just disrupt that momentum.”
Galdston surveyed both staff and parents, and found that a majority of both groups supported foregoing the spring break. About 70 percent of teachers and closer to 80 percent of support staff wanted to keep working through the break. A total of 433 WPS staff responded to the survey.
More than 700 parents responded to the survey and about 70 percent of elementary parents, and more than 70 percent of middle and high school students said they wanted to keep school going over the break. See graphs below and by clicking here.
Galdston said that she understands it might be more work for a parent of an elementary school parent to oversee their online learning, compared to a middle or high schooler, who would be more self-sufficient.
School Committee member Lily Rayman-Read said she worries about the stresses facing parents and teachers.
“As a parent of elementary students and as a high school teacher, I am completely overwhelmed and I am exhausted. A lot of people feel that,” Rayman-Read said.
While she saw the advantages of keeping the continuity by skipping April Vacation, Rayman-Read said she said some parents may think their children need a break, and she wanted to know how they can do that “without making them feel that they are doing academic harm to their children?”
School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley said she does not want to do things halfway if break is cancelled.
“I understand the point Lily is making, but I also don’t want the four days to turn into not four days of school. We don’t want it be to sort of school, sort of not school,” Foley said. “We have expectations, and the data tells us and anecdotal experiences, showing people want to continue the routines — it is beneficial.”
Galdston added that the schools would not try to “cram five days of learning into four days.” She also acknowledged that teachers too are facing stresses, and said that the school staff may need to approach this in a different way.
“Friday is the day we submit our weekly plan. I think we need to shut it down, and I think we need to make ourselves completely unavailable until Tuesday (after Patriot’s Day),” Galdston said. “I know it is going to be hard for people to do, but I think it is one of the most important strategies we can do as we face the fact that we are not going to have an April Vacation.”
School Committee Chair John Portz said that there could be a possibility of adding more days off around the Memorial Day weekend if people need a break.
The School Committee voted unanimously to continue school over the April Vacation week.