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April school break canceled; online classes continue

Covid-19 impact felt on IEPs, building plans, superintendent search

Adjusting to the coronavirus, April break has been canceled for students in Arlington public schools, as teachers continue to offer classes through what is usually a vacation.

School Committee logoBut they will not be continuing with the curriculum planned for the 2019-2020 school year. Instead, teachers will post “enrichment assignments” online that students can complete on their own time.

In a virtual School Committee meeting held via Zoom on Thursday, April 9, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said the wide range of students’ home situations makes it impossible to continue with a regular classroom curriculum.

“There is absolutely no way we can replicate what goes on in an average school day,” Bodie said. “Our hope is that we are going to be able to provide very rich assignments and opportunities that will deepen the knowledge of what is already taught, and broaden the experience of our students.”

Enrichment site created

The district created a website called Arlington Enrich, specifically to offer the activities. Students or parents can select the grade level from a drop-down menu and then complete assignments from different subjects, including online math games, such at-home art activities as painting or origami and guided workouts on the website GoNoodle. Teachers can give feedback on assignments, but do not grade them.

Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. said the site has had more than 32,000 visits so far.

Julianna Keyes, a history teacher at Ottoson Middle School, told the committee that she has been getting online participation from about 40 percent to 50 percent of her seventh-grade students. She said remote learning makes it hard to connect with students in a meaningful way, and it is more difficult to provide the nongraded feedback.

“It’s all the bad parts of the job,” Keyes said. “It’s the lesson plans and the ‘grading’ without the good parts of the job: without the kids.”

More than 1,000 Chromebooks distributed

Bodie said the district has distributed more than 1,000 Chromebook laptops to students in grades one through 12 to try and mitigate the issue of digital equity, where some students have access to computers to complete assignments while others don’t.

Now, Bodie said the problem is “time equity,” where not all students are able to log on to do a learning session at a specific time of day, because of parents’ work schedules, or another student in the family needing to use the same computer. This why the district decided to make all online education asynchronous, meaning students can log on to the website at any time of day and complete the assignments.

Alison Elmer, the director of special education, said that the district is making an individualized remote learning plan for every special-education student based on their individualized education plan (IEP), which they will send to the families early the week of April 13. The idea is to follow these new plans as much as possible remotely, though families can opt out if at-home education presents a hardship.

The special-education team is working to figure out IEP assessment meetings, which typically have to take place in person, and are reaching out to families directly about scheduling those.

Impact of canceling

At the same meeting, the School Committee voted unanimously to cancel April break and continue with remote learning. Guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says that schools need to be scheduled for at least 185 days per year, a number the school could make up either by canceling April break or by extending school into the fourth week of June when students are slated to be back in physical classrooms.

“If we have April break, and have a complete break with what we’ve been doing, it might be hard to get back on track,” Bodie said.

Committee member Jane Morgan said that while she would prefer that students get as much real classroom time as possible, she voted in favor of doing remote learning during April break instead, because with the current illness rate rate of the pandemic, she doesn’t believe schools will be back in normal session by June anyway.

“I think getting four days in the classroom is way better than the lousy job I’m doing delivering this at home,” Morgan said, referencing the home-schooling that she is doing with her own kids. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

The School Committee then voted unanimously to waive a list of education requirements that will not be possible for students to complete, given the shutdown. The list includes final exams, AP exams, attendance requirements, the 40-hour community-service requirement and the physical-education requirement.

At the time of the April 9 meeting, the members did not know whether MCAS testing would be required, but one day later, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill canceling testing requirements for the school year.

School-building timelines, search

Bodie said school-building project timelines are up in the air now, since many construction workers have stopped working because of Covid-19. In particular, Bodie said the Parmenter School project was on a very tight timeline before the pandemic, and delays may mean the building won’t be open for occupation in September, as originally planned.

Additionally, committee member Paul Schlichtman gave an update from the Superintendent Search Process Committee that the focus groups and community meetings that were scheduled for April, May and June will have to be postponed. He proposed coming up with a new proposal for the contracted search company after the pandemic is over.

Thursday’s meeting was held via a Zoom Webinar, a different Zoom format from the one used at the last School Committee meeting. On Webinar, only the invited panelists are visible, and members of the public can view, but cannot be seen or heard. Because of this, there was no public comment taken during the meeting. Instead, members of the public were invited to submit comments via email.

Committee Chair Len Kardon said the reason for the new format is to avoid “Zoom-bombing,” where hackers can enter the videoconference as attendees and disrupt the meeting with noise and images.

The next Arlington School Committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 16, but may be postponed until April 23 if there are no pressing issues to discuss.


March 25, 2020: Remote learning during shutdown discussed; geothermal wells scrapped


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Eileen O'Grady was published Saturday, April 11.

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