LETTER: Barely Meeting the Minimum is Not Good Enough for Watertown Students

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The following letter was sent by a group of Watertown parents called WPS Parents for Moving School Forward:

While school districts across Massachusetts are presenting their communities with joyous plans to return elementary students to school full time by the state required date of April 5 or earlier, Watertown is setting itself up to again lag behind in providing students access to public school.

Our community has been informed of a plan that would put elementary students in school for only half days starting April 5 until an eventual return to full time April 26. As this approach is contrary to the back to school full time by April 5 mandate that the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has recently announced, WPS is now in the process of asking DESE is this is allowable. As best as we can understand, WPS is arguing to DESE that if we do half days for most of April, but regular full days for the rest of the year after that, then over the full 10 weeks remaining we will end up with an average that meets the state minimum hourly per-day requirements and therefore should be permitted to delay full time return.

Whether DESE allows this or not, it is a bad choice for the students of Watertown. Barely meeting the minimum standards should not be considered acceptable at any time, and especially not when our students have not had the benefit of full in-person school in over a year. Compounding the school deficit that this plan would grow, we heard at the last School Committee meeting that the elementary and middle school students have been receiving below minimum state structured learning time requirements for hybrid school. Watertown students need more school, not less.

Kids have lost so much the past year, depriving them of school in the afternoon for an extra two weeks is unnecessary and contrary to a rapidly growing mountain of evidence regarding the social, emotional, and academic harm children have endured from not having access to their schools. If returning gradually is important, then we should increase in-person time before the April 5 deadline DESE has given school districts. This was suggested by School Committee members at the last meeting and is certainly something we would support.

The scheme to delay full return, but still make the state-mandate minimum standard for learning hours, also rests on the unknowable assumption that it will definitely be possible to operate schools at full day the entire remaining school year once WPS allows students to go back full day. While we all hope this will be the case, we also all know nothing is guaranteed. There are sanctions for districts that fail to achieve the minimum standards and they include school in
the summer and the loss of Chapter 70 money from the state. Risking these sanctions just in order to deny Watertown elementary students two weeks of school in the afternoon does not make sense.

School is essential. It’s not supposed to be cancelled in the afternoon for two weeks so students can get used to being there gradually. Our kids are chomping at the bit to return to school full time. Their well-being calls for a return to school full time as soon as possible. We ask our School Committee reject unnecessary delays that have nothing to do with health or safety, and return our students to their schools full time April 5 or sooner.

WPS Parents for Moving School Forward

10 thoughts on “LETTER: Barely Meeting the Minimum is Not Good Enough for Watertown Students

  1. It has everything to do with health… mental health. These kids have been through so much over the past year. 2 weeks of 5 half days before the April vacation is going to help kids get re-adjusted and learn new class and school expectations due to larger groups being together. I think a lot of parents are expecting that a full return is going to bring back their kids’ pre-pandemic dispositions, but we need to realize that this change is a lot for them. It’s not a magic fix, and they do in fact need time to adjust.

    Just because the kids of those parents who wrote this letter are “chomping at the bit”, doesn’t mean every WPS student is. Everyone who pushed for this is getting what they wanted but still demanding more, and honestly it’s off putting, dismissive, and selfish.

    • The only students who should be gradually eased into full days are kindergarteners who have not yet had this experience. Every other student has gone to school on a normal schedule, six hours, Monday to Friday. This is not new and should not be pandered to. If your child cannot handle this transition then you have the option to keep them remote. It is really that simple.

    • LL – Couldn’t agree more. We are also grateful for the gradual start. I know many other families who feel the same, but just aren’t as vocal as some parent groups in town. None of our children have been in school full time during a pandemic and many adjustments and changes need to happen to ensure it is successful.

    • This group is asking our district to do what the State has required as of April 5th. Nothing more, nothing less. If the District does not comply, it could lead to classes spilling into summer (which would probably create problems with MTA) or withholding of funds to Watertown Schools. A gradual start would have been welcomed and completely fine…if it was done before the date of 4/5. The leadership of this District dropped the ball for all students, big time.

  2. Maybe with Moderna announcing vaccine trials for children, WPS Parents for Moving School Forward can volunteer their kids?

  3. Private and parochial schools have been able to stay open with actual classes. They often don’t get the funds that the public schools do, but yet they can continue to teach. I would think these half days would interfere with parents needs also. If they have to go and pick up their children, that could impact many of their work-from-home schedules too. Also, it just breaks up the day unnecessarily. Our teachers aren’t teaching these children that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. They are teaching them to be afraid of life’s tribulations and that it is best to hide out at home when illness strikes. If the flu comes back next year, will the schools be closing down for that too? In the past, hundreds of thousands of people have died from it in a year. The flu vaccine is usually about 30% effective if they don’t anticipate the correct strain.

  4. The emotional investment-up to anger and open hostility-some people have about keeping other people’s children from going to school is really curious.

    Any parent who doesn’t feel comfortable sending them back doesn’t have to. The only people in school will be kids whose parents want them there and teachers/school staff. Most of the teachers I know want to be back and know what a disaster the year out of school has been for kids. It would be really disturbing if the nasty comments above were being left by am adult who works in schools in Watertown.

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