The WPS Parent’s Action Group was formed in order to assess the impact of Watertown Public School (WPS) policies, including school closures, on Watertown families.
We are extraordinarily privileged to live in a school district which cares about social equity and our little group of parents seeks to aid the school district in understanding the needs and realities of Watertown families through, among other things, innovative and nimble data analysis.
The survey issued this week in relation to the WPS early closures is part of a broader project concerning accountability and transparency for the school district in making decisions that may disparately affect families. The ultimate goal of these inquiries is to both understand the impact of decisions on families, as well as to imagine creative possibilities for supporting families.
Heat-Related Early School Closure Family Impact Study
Dr. Lisa Lucile Owens
January 8, 2021
WPS Parent’s Action Committee
While our survey addressing the family impacts of the recent early school closures is still open and gathering data, this communication shares some preliminary data.
On June 7 and 8, 2021, the Watertown Public School (WPS) district, as well as a number of other suburban school districts in eastern Massachusetts closed schools in the afternoons due to temperatures which reached 94 degrees Fahrenheit. This closure was first communicated to parents past 9:00 PM the night before the initial closure. As mask mandates at WPS schools are still in place, and the schools lack sufficient air conditioning, the school district made the decision to close school in the afternoon for all students.
Watertown is a diverse school district, with a median household income of $97,929 (Footnote 1) For more context, almost 10% of families in the Watertown School district have incomes at or below the poverty level, and almost 15% receive food stamps/SNAP benefits. (Footnote 2) Almost 35% of households in Watertown are run by a single parent, and approximately 25% of parents within the Watertown district have not attended college. (Footnote 3) A minority of parents are homeowners in our town, with 54% of parents in the Watertown district renting their homes. As well, the vast majority of parents in Watertown hold jobs, with over 85% in the labor force. (Footnote 4) In Wellesley, another nearby school district which similarly closed its schools in relation to the heat, only 13% of households are run by single parents, the median household income is almost twice that of Watertown, and 88% of households own their homes. (Footnote 5) In short, in comparison to other suburban towns peripheral to Boston, WPS families have a greater diversity of needs.
The requirement to find childcare or take leave from work may have a very different meaning for families with a parent who is a professional and can easily work from home, or has a dedicated stay-at-home parent. For families with one or both parents who work in hourly or precarious positions (such as uber drivers or instacart shoppers), taking leave can mean an income loss — which may translate to not being able to make the rent, not being able to buy enough food that week, or not being able to make a needed repair to the car.
This has been a particularly tough year for parents, especially those who may have already been struggling to make ends meet. According to several accounts, the number of parents (and especially Mothers) in the workforce dropped significantly following Covid-related school closures (Footnote 6). For those parents who were able to hold on to their jobs, asking for leave unexpectedly and for reasons which are not typical (i.e. heat related school closures) may have a negative effect on already strained relationships with employers. While an early release for children may only represent two hours “less” of school time, it also means cancellation of the after school program which working parents also rely on. Not to mention commuting time — all told, while an “early release” seems like no big deal to some, other parents are looking at a working day of only 3 hours (approximately 8:30 – 11:30) compared to more than 7 on a more typical day. Especially for families who work paycheck to paycheck, this time makes a difference.
According to preliminary analysis of our survey data, roughly 50% of parents who had to miss work to care for children due to the closures were worried about asking for leave from work. Similarly, for almost half of parents, leave taken from work was unpaid. Several said the leave they took in relation to the closure would affect their family’s vacation or leisure plans, and several parents also reported that the closures had a negative impact on their relationship with their employer.
Heat-related closures are new for WPS. Although only a handful of school days in the past few years have been as hot as June 6 and 7, schools were not closed at those times due to the heat. As well, the buildings have historically hosted students for summer school and a district-led camp in the summer months, ostensibly with several days of similar temperatures. While elevated heat is not ideal, it is not something unexpected. School closures related to the heat, however, are unexpected. Nonetheless, given the requirement for students to wear masks as a Covid-related precaution, special circumstances may indeed apply. Parent’s Action asks: Are there alternatives to these school closures and were they fully considered by WPS? For example, could students in hot classrooms be shifted to other spaces within the school? Or could attendance be made optional for the day so that families concerned about the heat could keep their children home while working parents without other childcare options could continue to send their children to school?
WPS must be accountable to families. For working families, who do not have a dedicated stay-at-home parent, they provide an important childcare function in addition to an educational one. Families rely on schools and schools promise to be a reliable resource for families. It would be inefficient to expect families to have a backup plan for childcare outside of the typical, i.e. children getting sick or snow days. The heat-related school closures on June 6 and 7 were without precedent. Parent’s Action asks for accountability from the school district in the context of school closures. Is the closure truly necessary? Have all alternatives to school closure been exhausted?
If you are a Watertown parent and have not yet participated in the WPS Parent’s Action survey on the family impacts of the recent early school closures, please do so here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/T59PMQL
The WPS Parent’s Action Committee is committed to addressing systemic inequality within the Watertown Public School system. Parent’s Action supports the mission of public schools to serve families across the social spectrum by engaging in innovative and nimble qualitative and quantitative data gathering and analysis. We aim to drive awareness and to develop study instruments, reports and innovative policy towards more just and equal communities. Parent’s Action is an independent initiative and not affiliated with any public school or district. Please visit us on the web at www.parentsaction.net.
1 National Center for Education Statistics, ACS School District Profile 2014-18. Retrieved June 9, 2021 (https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/2512180).
2 National Center for Education Statistics, ACS School District Profile 2014-18. Retrieved June 9, 2021 (https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/2512180).
3 National Center for Education Statistics, ACS School District Profile 2014-18. Retrieved June 9, 2021 (https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/2512180).
4 National Center for Education Statistics, ACS School District Profile 2014-18. Retrieved June 9, 2021 (https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/2512180).
5 National Center for Education Statistics, ACS School District Profile 2014-18. Retrieved June 9, 2021 (https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/2512270).
6 Kochhar, Rakesh. 2021. “Fewer Mothers and Fathers in U.S. Are Working Due to COVID-19 Downturn; Those at Work Have Cut Hours.” Pew Research Center. Retrieved June 9, 2021
What is the sample size and how are you controlling for sample bias?
Exactly my question.
Literally no information about survey response just a list of information which was already readily available and easily understood by everyone who works with or thinks about schooling in this district.
You do understand that the issue of heat will be addressed in all the new schools with A/C? The only buildings with issues will be with the Lowell(soon to be worked on) and the Middle school(where the majority of 12-14 year olds can go home themselves in this situation).
I do understand the issues/position that many are put in these very unique situations(heat related early dismissals are very rare that I have experienced). I’m a single parent that utilized after school when my daughter attended Elementary school.
You post some questions and some solutions, though very limited. You point to a couple questions to ask the administration, can you post any responses here or in Watertown Residents for Stronger schools when you. hear back? What about possible solutions if the heat is deemed too much, can coops be coordinated so that groups of kids can be watched by one parent(that can be home) or rotations done for these sorts of days? What about snow days, these are similar and wouldn’t this be a similar situation that needs to be handled?
With respect to the questionnaire and your group:
I found many of the question in the survey to be intrusive.
Your web-sight has no specific Watertown Contacts, who are you? The fact that there is not 1 or more contacts is disconcerting.
I don’t know anyone that knows who is in this group. Sounds very strange to me.
If you want to be taken seriously(and it sounds like you all do), please give some names/faces to the questions and concerns. This will go a long way in providing trust and communication going forward.
My 2 cents
They never mentioned how the teachers, classroom aides, administrative and custodial staff who also work in the school buildings with masks were effected. It’s also Watertown’s responsibility to create a safe and comfortable working environment for their staff. To suggest parents should have an option to send their children to school in unbearable heat but expect staff to work in that environment is completely unacceptable and biased.
Presumably, many of the parents and care-givers who most need the school in order to go to work would also be facing the heat conditions, and wearing masks as our teachers and school staff. Making ends-meet from pay-check to pay-check is a challenge to many in our town, and for a good part of us, at stake are our housing and jobs. Like the author of the op-Ed, I too trust the good faith and commitment to equity of our school district. But unaided by data and ideas, good faith and commitment won’t pay the rent or keep my job.
So what do you do when it’s a snow day or when your kids are sick? I’m sorry but there is no relevant data in this article as the majority of parents in this district refused to fill out the questionnaire because they did not know how the data would be used, who was using it and how it would be protected. Furthermore the idea that parents could choose to send their kids to school in excessive heat is not equitable between staff and students: staff wouldn’t have a choice, students and parents would.
I agree it’s heartbreaking that so many people have to live pay check to pay check but I don’t think that’s relevant to this situation and trying to squeeze every situation that does not go in your favor and shouting that it’s inequitable when there is not data to suggest that it was inequitable is wrong.
The title of the article is misleading. There is very little data provided in the letter, certainly not enough to account for preliminary results. Correct me if I am wrong but the only data point from the actual survey was “roughly 50% who had to miss work …” There is no reference to the number of respondents to the particular question or the survey in general.
The letter read as a summary of concerns by the group without the data to back up the theory. I am very interested in seeing the detailed analysis of the findings.
I’m still hesitant to fill anything out. The only name I’ve seen associated with this group is the author. I was able to find a Twitter bio stating she is an “attorney and sociologist” from Boston/NYC. The WPS action webpage still doesn’t provide me with enough information where I feel confident giving my information. Are there any Watertown parents associated with this group? I’m open to these kinds of discussions, but the air of mystery/secrecy is a bit concerning.
This Letter to the Editor clearly raises more questions than answers. First, are we even sure that the members of the WPS Parents Action Committee are actually Watertown parents? Second, in what world is a Watertown Parent comparing Watertown to Wellesley, specifically simply referring to Wellesley as “another nearby district”? For the record, and perhaps another footnote, Wellesley is the 7th ranked city in per capita income in MA, which incidentally is higher than 343 other cities in our state, including Watertown (ranked 70th). Personally, I’ve never heard of Watertown being compared to Wellesley for the purpose of an economic comparison. Yes, our public schools were closed a few hours early when the heat hovered in the 90’s for multiple days. And, footnote not required, that was the outside temperature. So, in addition to this alleged unbiased survey not including the temperatures inside any school building which was closed, it also doesn’t include how many people answered the survey to form the data or even who the “Parents” are thar formed this group. Other than that, there’s nothing bizarre about this survey or its preliminary conclusions, right?
Who is Dr. Lisa Lucile Owens? Who is in this group? Who is really behind this group? “Parent’s Action is an independent initiative and not affiliated with any public school or district. Please visit us on the web at http://www.parentsaction.net.”
Is this another fill-in-the-blank organization? Another bogus posting?
“Heat-related closures are new for WPS. Although only a handful of school days in the past few years have been as hot as June 6 and 7, schools were not closed at those times due to the heat…..”
FYI – in past years, classrooms were able to use fans (not so this year) and kids were not required to wear masks indoors for 6 hours. That’s the difference. In addition, most of the schools will soon have AC. STOP creating divisiveness!
Another point this letter didn’t note is that two of our three elementary schools are currently in temporary accommodations with very limited additional space. When the schools are used for camps the number of students is a small fraction of the number who attend every day during the school year, and are able to mostly remain in the air-conditioned parts of the schools (cafeteria, auditorium).
The combination of reduced space, distancing, and masking with temperatures of over 90 degrees for several consecutive days was a perfect storm that we hopefully not have to encounter again, especially as our new schools will be fully air-conditioned.
I was concerned about the questionnaire from the start. There were some very intrusive questions. I have been involved with the schools since 1972 in a variety of capacities. I have reached for more information about this group but all I could find is that it seems the group is a part of a larger agenda to set up these parent action committees across the state and beyond. The writer needs to proofread the date on her report. The footnotes sited were as of June 9 ,2021 though it appears the impact statement was written as of June 8. The information source widely cited is not necessarily accurate.
If this truly is a group of Watertown parents why won’t they identify themselves or why can’t the average citizen access an eel information on them other than a generic web page.
It is concerning to me that many most involved in the schools have no idea of what this group is and other than the author who is apart of it.
If they are legitimate, please share your true purpose and you membership.
I really doubt you got enough surveys back to make the statements made here and if so share the real data connected to your survey.
Who are these people?
A Concerned Citizen.
There have been real concerns raised in these responses but no forthcoming information from the WPS Parent Action Committee. Who is this group and what is their agenda?
Go to this link:
Please visit us on the web at http://www.parentsaction.net.
It gives no clue who this is from. If they are truly a Watertown Parent Group why don’t they give more information.
I would suggest that you direct your questions about the organization to the organization and not just post them in the comments section of an article. I just visited the website provided and right on the homepage is their email, email@example.com, in addition to a Contact Us page where you can direct your questions. I find it inappropriate and not at all useful for people to ask questions about an organization in the comments section of an article. If you really wanted your questions answered about the organization, you would contact the organization directly.
Given this is a letter to the editor from that group:WPS Parent’s Action Committee, I think it only fair that folks respond to them here too for feedback. Given there have been multiple posters asking the same question(please let us know who you are and what your mission is, given it is not on the website(I checked before I posted), one would logically think that this question would be answered here if this group wanted to be taken serious, be transparent and promote more discussion. Folks are also welcome to send email via their website too but if I wrote a letter to the editor, I would expect feedback and hope to answer their questions(not all but at least start a conversation).