The Watertown Public Schools welcomed students back Tuesday with classes being taught remotely via computer. On Monday, the Massachusetts education officials sent a letter to Watertown and other districts running virtual classes asking when they will start running in-person classes.
The letter, sent by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, asked 16 school districts where the rate of COVID-19 infections are low, to return to in-person learning. Belmont was one of the other districts to receive the letter from the state.
State officials said that DESE only recommended remote learning for communities with high risk of COVID-19 infection. Lower-risk communities are those with less than 4 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, moderate risk is 4-8 per 100,000 and higher risk is more than 8 per 100,000. As of Sept. 16 (the latest report), Watertown is 1.29 per 100,000, which is low risk. See the map by clicking here.
According to a story on MassLive.com, part Riley’s letter reads:
“In light of the stark discrepancy between local public health data and your reopening plan, I am requesting a timeline by which you anticipate providing in-person instruction for the majority of your students including in-person instruction for vulnerable populations.”
School Committee Chairman John Portz said that he does not anticipate the School Committee will reconsider its decision to start the year remotely.
“We think we’re on a good path to get back in school in a safe way for students and teachers,” Portz said. “We voted in early August when the state recommended that all districts choose their path forward.”
Under Watertown’s plan, School officials will look at the Coronavirus rate in Watertown and surrounding communities on Oct. 22, and if it is low enough elementary school students will go back part-time to in-person classes on Oct. 27. The earliest that Watertown Middle School and Watertown High School will return would be Nov. 30.
Last week, Superintendent Dede Galdston said that if the rates on Oct. 22 are what they were last week, the schools would reopen.
Portz said: “We will be monitoring the COVID metrics closely and hope to have elementary students return in a hybrid format on October 27. In our phasing approach, other students will follow as long as the COVID metrics are within the appropriate range.”
Some of the highest need students who would struggle significantly in remote learning — some special education and English Language Learners — will be going back to school on Sept. 22, Portz said.
He also noted that the decision was made before State officials came out with the guidelines for school reopenings.
“The more detailed metrics from the state came out after the recommended time for a vote,” Portz said. “(Watertown’s decision) came after a 74-person task force worked for much of the summer to develop plans and strategies to reopen.”