Watertown Schools Starting Remotely, Plans to Move to Some In-Person When Virus Allows

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The School Committee approved a plan from Superintendent Dede Galdston to have Watertown students start the school year learning remotely, but with eyes on moving to some in-person learning when the pandemic allows.

The Watertown School Committee voted unanimously Thursday night. The decision was based on both safety and what is best for student learning, Galdston said. She said that the best option educationally would be to have al students in schools, but said the safety of students and staff also needed to be taken int account.

Galdston also acknowledged that any decision will be seen as wrong by some people. Galston said she wants to make sure that Watertown’s schools do not have to close down after starting school in person.

“We see evidence in other states, schools reopen and with in a couple days move into remote,” Galdston said. “For us let’s get it right the first time.”

During her presentation, Galdston promised parents the program would be more robust than last spring, including having a weekly learning plan to follow.

“The key this year, (the program) is highly structured, and with the teachers,” Galdston said. “Parents will have to facilitate to make sure kids are in the Zoom, make sure they are taking breaks, but the actual teaching is with the teachers.” 

The majority of Watertown teachers supported starting remotely, said Watertown Educators Association President Debra King. In a survey of more than 90 percent of teachers, 71 percent indicated they wanted to start remotely, King said.

Assistant Superintendent Theresa McGuinness said that the remote school day will be 100 percent of a normal one, compared to the 50 percent required by the state in the spring.

The first day of school will be Sept. 22, 2020, Galston said. The state allows a Sept. 16 start, but with the original starting date after Labor Day, Watertown looked to wait another few days.

After school starts, the district will be moving toward bringing some students back to school. The first group would be the elementary students, who would return no earlier than Oct. 22, Galdston said, if the level of the virus allows. The metrics used to make the decision will be the statewide numbers as well as Middlesex County and locally, Galdston said.

The return would be in the hybrid model at first, Galdston said, with students split into two cohorts. Cohort A would attend school some days, and Cohort B on the other days. The cohorts will be set up in the beginning of the year so that they can transition into the hybrid model where where students have some in-person lessons.

The first time that the middle and high school could return would be Nov. 22. Again, this would depend on the status of the COVID-19 outbreak, Galdston said. The dates line up with the end of the quarter and semester.

Parents can choose to go remotely, even when the hybrid model begins. They would be in that model through at least Feb. 8, 2021, when they will be able to reevaluate and change their decision, Galdston said.

The full, in-person return would occur when there is a vaccine or a COVID-19 treatment readily available, Galdston said.

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