Watertown Among Districts Encouraged by State to Return to In-Person Learning

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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.”

5 thoughts on “Watertown Among Districts Encouraged by State to Return to In-Person Learning

  1. Yep, open public schools. Not to mention that all private schools have already opened for in-person learning. Isn’t it weird, is it?

    • It’s so frustrating that the implicit principle seems to be that places you need to pay to go to are open, places that ought to be provided as public services remain closed. I agree that we have to manage risk but there’s got to be a better principle to decide what to open and close than the almighty dollar.

  2. In-person learning is essential.

    And yet, Massachusetts is still keeping in place a recent “order” in which you cannot order an alcoholic drink alone. You must buy food too. Makes no sense whatsoever.
    You can’t order a beer and sit outside and drink it without ordering food?
    Irrational.

    I was just in a major supermarket where they usually have acrylic bulk towers hanging above for which you open a little door at the bottom and the goods flow into your bag.

    I was told they were now empty by state order. This makes no sense whatsoever.
    The customer never touches the food in the bins.

    What next, you can’t have tomatoes, potatoes, oranges, and apples out in the open and touch them?

    And yet people seem to just accept such irrationality.

    These Massachusetts “orders” are without logic and a sign of panic.

  3. Charlie..the Commonwealth did not “encourage.” It has effectively given the 16 communities an ultimatum, define and establish an opening schedule or face penalties and possible loss of accreditation.

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