No Vote on Watertown Schools Moving to Hybrid; Supt. Optimistic for Oct. 27 Opening

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School officials are optimistic that Watertown elementary school students will return to classes part time in a hybrid model beginning Oct. 27, and the middle school could go to a hybrid model weeks earlier than originally planned.

The School Committee met Monday night, during a meeting held virtually over Zoom, but did not take a vote on the start of hybrid learning in Watertown. Instead, they left the decision up to the superintendent.

On Thursday, Oct. 22, Superintendent Dede Galdston will evaluate the state of the COVID-19 outbreak in Watertown, and consider cases in surrounding communities, to decide whether to start hybrid learning in Watertown’s elementary schools the following week. She said that right now things look good to have students start moving back into schools.

“Unless something were to drastically change, based on all the mitigating strategies we have in place, based upon all the preparation we’ve done to date, then I think we would be looking pretty optimistically to moving to hybrid on Oct. 27,” Galdston said.

Under the updated plan, the start of hybrid learning at Watertown Middle School would be moved from Nov. 10 from Nov. 30. Watertown High School would continue to start no earlier than Nov. 30.

Several teachers expressed concerns about the schools not having everything in place and protocols set for students to return to school in person. Other teachers said they believe remote learning is going well, and that it is the safest way to handle things as cases are on the rise in Massachusetts.

The parents who commented during the meeting said their children have not done well with remote learning. They have concerns about their children losing their love of learning, and would benefit greatly from being back in school with their teachers. Some noted that other districts have been back in-person for weeks or months, and Watertown could learn from their experiences.

Last week, after several weeks of Watertown’s rate of COVID-19 infections falling in the state’s green category, or lower risk, the town moved to yellow (moderate risk). Larry Ramdin, Director of the Health Department, said that he does not have a concern with the plan for going to hybrid at the elementary schools or moving up the start of hybrid at the middle school.

He noted the Town’s change in COVID status from green to yellow was the result of a small increase — a difference in 0.5 cases per 100,000 residents.

“We are not seeing any major community spread. Everything is restricted to in-family (transmission) and mostly people who have been going to gatherings outside of the community,” Ramdin said. “Community spread is not active in Watertown.”

He added, however, that the number of cases are increasing in the state. Ramdin urged people continue to wear masks in public and avoid large gatherings, including Halloween parties and even large gatherings of extended families during the holidays.

Galdston said that 92 students in Massachusetts school districts have tested positive, but those districts have not seen spread from student to student, student to teacher, or teacher to teacher.

She also noted that not all the air purifiers ordered for classrooms in the Middle School have yet arrived. The Town has checked with the company, which expects to ship them this week, and Galdston said she is optimistic they will arrive by next week.

School Community member Lindsay Mosca, who is a school administrator in another district, said that all schools where she works have been back for a month and she believes it is going well.

“It is a true joy to see students in a room with their teacher. They were nervous too. There were a lot of things didn’t know about, but they figured it out,” Mosca said. “Masks are working. Social distancing is working. Young kids are wearing masks, following protocol and following one way signs in the hallways. Kids are already adapting. It does look different. It is OK.”

School Committee member Amy Donohue said she believes there has been enough discussion and it is time to start working to reopen the schools for hybrid learning.

Lily Rayman-Read, a School Committee member and a teacher in Cambridge, said she worries that teachers won’t have time to prepare for returning to in-person learning.

“I am concern for a lack of prep time,” Rayman-Read said. “It is really hard to pivot. It does sound, hearing from the teachers tonight, they do not feel completely prepared. It would be wonderful if we give educators time in the building to prepare for their students to come back.”

After discussing whether the School Committee should take a vote on Thursday to open the schools next week (and for similar decisions in coming weeks for the middle and high schools), members agreed that the decision should be made by Galdston.

14 thoughts on “No Vote on Watertown Schools Moving to Hybrid; Supt. Optimistic for Oct. 27 Opening

  1. What a spineless lot this school committee is! After initially supporting Galdston, Portz and his entourage are leaving her to her own devices and we all know that this is trending towards an 11th hour decision to remain a remote learning community.

    • The district is using smoke screens the kids are not going back this year.
      Did you actually think they were actually going to do the right thing.

  2. The passiveness of our elected school committee in the face of this crisis is a truly remarkable and sad thing to behold. The chair John Portz is virtually a potted plant and you can’t even hear what he’s saying on the rare occasions he says anything. 6 of the school committee plus the superintendent were totally on board moving up the potential date for middle school but it only didn’t happen because Lily Read said she wasn’t comfortable with a vote and we need more data and teachers need more time to pivot- even though there’s no data coming in the next 2 days that is possibly definitive to Nov. 10 and our schools already have had more time to prepare than anyone in the state and the middle school teachers would still have more than 3 more weeks to keep preparing. 2 more days is just more time for the union to lobby against going back. Amy Donahue and especially Kendra Foley were visibly frustrated, but still wouldn’t just straight up make a motion for a vote.

    Watching this meeting it’s pretty clear how Watertown got into this mess. In the decision making process, the union and its people have a very clear goal and position they pursue aggressively: don’t go back until it’s normal. If you look at things strictly from an economic position for teachers- totally ignoring the needs of students- it’s a reasonable position. Meanwhile, the other people in the room are wishy washy and easily pushed through and around . The union rolled everyone else during the summer into the latest start possible and now that it’s coming up they are trying to push it back even more. The union should be criticized because their position is heartless, anti-social, and long-term devaluing to education and their jobs- but looked at from a strictly economic short-term view there is logic to it. There is no logic or good to what happens when people who are supposed to actually be leaders and make decisions allow that extreme position to define the situation and give into it. As a result of this dynamic that was on full display last night, we are in the middle of an educational and social tragedy for Watertown kids.*

    *Except the ones whose parents can afford private school.

    • I heard others say they did not think the School Committee should be voting to decide if the hybrid starts. Mark Sideris was clear about that.

      Also, I may have not been clear in the story but they would have had to hold a meeting Thursday to make a final decision so they would have the latest numbers and to stay with the plan.

      • I guess the conversation was a little muddled. My impression was everyone agreed the committee should not vote to direct the supt to open, but that the discussion was whether to vote to instruct the supt to evaluate opening Nov. 10 when the time came as opposed to evaluating opening Nov 30 like the plan currently says to do. Either way the supt would have the final call, and the committee only sets date to look. I only heard Ms. Read express any issues with that, but it is possible I missed something.

  3. Covid-19 cases are on the rise across the country, in Boston and here in Watertown. People may be tired of having their children confined to home and on the screen for remote learning, but we cannot allow our frustrations to direct public health policy. We’re going to have to be patient if we want to keep our kids, parents and school staff healthy. It’s my feeling that this means that moving to hybrid will need to depend on cases falling rather than rising. And we may have to wait for a vaccine. The health of everyone in the community should be the first priority.

    • You are right Mike. The health of all Watertown citizens and workers should be our first and foremost concern right now. I am shocked at the hostility toward teachers on this board. It’s almost as if some folks want them to get sick.

      We are better than that in Watertown. C’mon people, we’re all frustrated and we all have problems, but we need to be fully in touch with our sense of humanity and community in this time of great difficulty.

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