The schools and COVID-19

The COVID-19 epidemic creates a huge challenge for our schools.

Education leaders face difficult choices.  On the one hand, bringing hundreds together in a school building seems unsafe.  On the other hand, home learning does not work well for all students and creates a burden on many working families. 

The choices have become controversial in some communities.  Over the past few weeks, I have had many conversations with parents, teachers, school administrators, school committee members, and with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Children and families vary widely how they feel about home learning. Some children like home learning and some parents are concerned about the risks of sending their children to school. Other children and families have a desperate need to return to the regular routine of school. 

Those in greatest need include children with special needs, English language learners, and homeless children.

I think often of a story told to me by a close friend who has taught kindergarten for decades in the Boston schools.  She has taught in many different elementary schools within the city.  In affluent neighborhoods, kids are eager for school to end so that summer can begin, but in the poorest neighborhoods, some kindergartners weep as mid-June approaches.

While the need for in-person instruction may be most acute for children in easily recognized need categories, even children with many home advantages can suffer from isolation.  We hear anecdotal evidence of increased depression and emotional stress among young people. 

Emotional or academic needs aside, school gives children critical opportunities to grow socially and emotionally through the interaction with each other and with adults outside the family.

While the advantages of in-person learning are clear, the challenges in making it work are also clear.   To reduce COVID-19 transmission, state guidelines require physical spacing between children.  Most school districts cannot achieve that physical spacing either on school buses or in classrooms if all children attend school at the same time. 

Additional barriers to in-person learning may include ventilation problems that increase viral transmission, and the health care risks that some teachers may face.  While children face limited risk of complications from COVID-19, they can pass it to higher-risk adults working in the schools and the virus is too new to rule out risk for children completely.

Some school districts, especially among those in high-infection-rate communities, have chosen all remote learning and most have chosen some form of hybrid learning with kids coming to school in shifts and doing some of their learning at home.

I have felt it important to respect the difficult conversations that parents, teachers, school administrators and elected school committee officials are going through together.  Those closest to the challenges need to make the decisions about how to meet the challenges.

As people have reached out to me from different perspectives, I have reflected at length on how I can be helpful.   Here are the things that seem important for me to focus on as a legislator.

First and most importantly, I will make sure that we honor our commitment to hold schools harmless from the revenue losses inflicted on the state budget by the COVID-19 recession in Fiscal 2021.   The schools need additional personnel as they try to support multiple learning models.  Now is not the time to cut school budgets.

Second, I will continue to ask questions about how we can bring cheaper, more convenient COVID testing to Massachusetts.  The current diagnostic nasal swab test is uncomfortable and expensive.  If we had cheap, convenient testing that offered quick results, it might create new options for higher-contact learning.  So far, the products we have investigated have not been ready for wide use.

Finally, I will try to assure that the contributions made by state agencies to the process are constructive.  A delegation of legislators recently conveyed strong concern to senior leadership of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education when they threatened school systems with “soup to nuts” regulatory audits.

This post written in the first person singular reflects input from Representative Dave Rogers. Another version of this post written in the first person plural was submitted jointly to the Belmont Citizen Herald by Dave and me. The post may appear in some form in other local papers.

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Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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50 Comments

  1. Children up to fifth of sixth grade need to be in school. Elementary school teachers who are above a certain age or have conditions which make them more vulnerable should be given an administrative position such as working remotely with children who also have conditions making them vulnerable.

  2. The facts on who is most affected by Covid-19, who gets sick, who does not, what treatments there are, who may die from it, and more have been entirely lost.
    All that is left is panic. It’s deliberate and it’s political.
    I read that cancer diagnoses were down 90% because the more you lockdown, the more you will not be able to see your doctor and get diagnosed for anything.

    Media keep reporting that there are “X number of new Covid-19 cases today.” They do that deliberately, and politicians simpy regurgitate it all as if it means something.
    A ‘case’ does not mean they are sick or even have symptoms.
    It’s meant to panic people and the reason is political, not medical.
    People have to live their lives, work, earn money, and do other human activities.
    Go ahead and panic if you wish.
    By the way, most people who are laid off go on unemployment.
    I imagine that teachers just keep drawing a complete paycheck, like other government employees.

  3. I lean toward keeping children learning at home. There are some cases of children dying of COVID.
    Children may infect grandparents, who are at greater risk. State funds might hire
    Tech Assistance to
    families who need this help to access online learning.

  4. Private and Catholic Schools are in session and seem to be making it work. Perhaps public schools can follow their lead. Children and teachers need to be safe but children need in person learning if they are below fifth grade
    Malls are open, restaurants are serving children inside and recreational activities indoors have resumed. Why have children going to older buildings for child care while the schools are not open? Stores and malls do not have the best ventilation and yet you see children there all the time.

    1. Correct, Mary. It’s much easier to open small schools to exclusive communities, in self-selecting enclaves, with wealthier populations, and in places where all disabilities are not as fulsomely integrated. Further, it’s possible to enforce social contracts in private communities – as opposed to serving all students and all families, irrespective of their circumstances. Apple and oranges.

    2. Hi Mary
      Much of the lockdown nonsense was started by a certain well-known political party to make the Covid-19 pandemic look as bad as possible in order to make Trump look as bad as possible. That party wanted the economy to become as bad as possible and unemployment sky-high.
      The intention for schools was to make parents miserable that their kids can’t be sent to school so that parents would blame Trump.
      As you correctly point out, other places are open. Why not schools? I think that certain political party scared people so much that there is now no going back. They are a victim of their own panic-creating.

  5. I think that your approach to the “problem of opening schools” has faulty reasoning. The problem is testing, contact tracing effectively and quarantining exposed people. While not completely perfect, what is needed is a weekly or 2 times a week testing regime that can screen all employees and kids in school. No exceptions. If the they have a negative test, they get a badge until the next test, which allows the kids and staff to be in school normally without wearing a mask. They will need to wear a mask coming and going to school. Only individuals who pass the weekly test can attend school. This is the system for schooling in Scandinavia and Germany and their schools are mostly open. I do not claim it is perfect, but it is better than what we are doing. The problem in my opinion is that there are not enough testing, so every time someone does something dumb like have a party, our schools have to shut down and go to remote learning for 10 – 14 days because you do not have a way to screen for Covid effectively. If there was more testing, the schools buildings could be safe and a surveillance venue for the community to focus resources to fight the spread of Covid. And when a problem occurs, it can be managed without the disruption of a shutdown. Just quarantine and remote learning for the person who failed the test and contract tracing of their family, co-workers and friends. I would add that perhaps fining or even taking a person into custody anyone who fails to quarantine or to cooperate with contact tracing. And yes most kids if they get Covid are likely to survive it. That is not the issue, it is the fact Covid is spread so easily and it can be a very serious problem for other people.

  6. If it is unsafe for public school children to attend in person learning, why is it ok for private school students to attend in person school?

    1. Because a certain political party wants parents to be unhappy that their public school children can’t attend school so they will vote against Trump and the GOP.
      This is obvious.

    2. Lots of reasons, including…

      As others have pointed out, private schools often have more space, so they can spread out more.

      They have more money, so they can put into place safety precautions that public schools can’t afford.

      They often have smaller student bodies than public schools, which further limits risk.

      They have more engaged parent bodies, so it is more likely that they will be able to ensure that parents follow the rules.

      Private-school parents are much more likely to have jobs they can do remotely, so there is less risk of parents getting Covid-19 and passing it on to their children who then pass it on to other children at school.

      Private-school parents are more likely to be financially stable, so they’re more likely to be able to follow quarantine rules if they are exposed, which means they’re less likely to send contagious kids to school.

  7. I don’t think that Gov. Baker is wrong when he says that schools and businesses aren’t the problem, because they have guidelines and they follow them; the problem is people meeting friends and family, unmasked/indoors/in close proximity in their own time. I think we need some way to report things like this other than calling the police, because I know a number of people who are really nervous about calling the police for something like that.

  8. We applauded the DESE for leaning on districts with very LOW infection rates who were not getting the kids into school when the weather was good. Hybrid models are working in many towns with half the kids in school each day and with a full day of instruction (eg look at other communities like Lexington). Our school district leadership has an agenda and is not responsive to the local community parents who voted overwhelmingly to get the kids back into school.

  9. There needs to be clear steps as to how often to test(this is only one part of the puzzle but a good one) to mitigate the spread of COVID19. This along with the other recommendations around masks/distance, is that families practice these important recommendations, as this will allow schools to stay open. My daughter is going to a private school and they are doing a good job. She opted(her choice) to stay remote for school and goes to school to run country with the team(some social time) with masks and distance. They had tested all kids/staff before and will again before starting after Thanksgiving and after Xmas breaks. This will mitigate the spread. There are people in Watertown advocating and working hard to raise $$ to get more testing for WPS. One other important part is a COVID pledge which was signed by all parents and kids, this may seem like a fleeting non important thing to do but I really believe that it makes kids and parents really think about their actions and how it can affect others.

    1. Kate, I love the idea of more testing for Watertown! I am a teacher at one of the elementary schools. Thank you for your efforts.

    2. Thank you, Kate, for your note, and of particular interest to me is the “COVID pledge” you mention that is taken by parents and children.
      For me, the key to doing anything is this: enough about what “me” can’t do, and time for what “we” need to do to be responsible to each other and to ourselves, even if it is “so hard.”
      I would love to know what is in the “COVID pledge.” And as so many seem unwilling to follow fact-based guidance and are understandably skeptical of all-media panic tactics (ALL sides/media), perhaps the only way forward is for us to be responsible to each other.
      Yes, this means: masks, distancing, no whining about “such hardships,” limiting our participations in wanton gatherings, respecting each others’ concerns, and putting “me” below “we.” This is the definition of community.
      Note please that parochial schools start from a different perspective (regardless the logistics inside the schools): they are each community schools, and the community takes responsibility for each in the community.

      1. For your information, here is the (slightly edited) parent social contract that we were asked to sign for the private school that one of our children attends. The children were asked to sign a similar contract.

        School Parent Social Contract

        I understand that reopening School requires my own personal commitment to the collective community. My family’s choices can impact the safety and wellbeing of members of our community, including dedicated teachers, students, and their families. My family’s actions reflect on the greater community and affect the greater community at large.

        I therefore make the following commitments to the School community:

        I will ensure that everyone in my household is adhering to Massachusetts
        guidelines including:
        Mask wearing indoors at all times outside our home, and outdoors when physical distancing of six feet cannot be maintained;
        Sanitation and hygiene protocols; and
        Social distancing.

        I will follow Massachusetts state travel guidelines (https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-travel-order), including quarantining the entire family if necessary due to any out-of-state travel.

        I will honestly and carefully fill out the health attestation every morning with complete transparency about my child’s health

        I will keep my child home from School if there is even a hint of COVID-19 symptoms (slightly elevated temp, sore throat, GI issues, etc.) in my child or in my household (among siblings, etc.). This includes if any asymptomatic member of our family has lost their sense of taste or smell.

        I will pick up my child promptly from School if they become ill at school

        I will remind my child/children to wear masks and to practice physical distancing when seeing their friends.

        I will sit down with my child/children and discuss and educate them about safe and unsafe ways to “pod” or “bubble” or group.

        I will supervise my teenagers’ whereabouts and ensure that they are engaging in safe social behavior.

        As the holidays arrive, I will be extremely careful about gatherings and holiday events. I acknowledge that indoor singing (and praying) has been determined to be high risk for Covid-19 transmission. Family gatherings, particularly those indoors, have also been deemed high risk. If our family attends indoor services and/or family gatherings, I promise to advise the school and be wholly transparent about our family’s plans, including out-of-state travel plans. I understand that the school may ask us to quarantine for 14 days, depending on advice from medical advisors, community transmission at the time, and the Governor’s orders then in place.

        School Policies

        School cannot ignore concerns from the community regarding adherence to safe behavior outside of school. The health and safety of our community is the priority. We recognize the discomfort that can arise by having a system of reporting, yet we feel a reporting system with the utmost level of care, confidentiality, respect, and presumption of positive intentions is necessary.

        If you are concerned or have information about possible COVID-19 exposure among School students or staff, please fill out the School Commits form.

        Concerned community members can complete the form outlining concerns about behaviors and breaches of the Brit. The school will take the following actions:

        Step 1: Reach Out

        If a concern about a family’s behavior is received, the school will reach out with a friendly reminder to the family and to verify and confirm information. Unless it is clear that the information was incorrect, the school will remind the family that the child will not be able to attend school in-person if there is another call.

        Step 2: Suspension of In-Person Learning Privilege

        If there is a second complaint, School will suspend the privileges of the family attending School B’Waltham and will require the family to participate in remote learning as the only option for 14 days.

        I understand that if I fail to adhere to the commitments outlined above, my family will be asked to switch to remote learning permanently.

  10. There seems to be a growing body of evidence that schools are not driving COVID spread.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2020/10/22/health/coronavirus-schools-children.amp.html

    Others have already pointed out the success that parochial schools in MA are experiencing. We should do what is feasible to provide options for families and teachers who don’t get feel safe yet – while also pushing for a full reopening for those of us who are willing to accept any risk for a superior educational experience.

  11. I recently heard an epidemiologist state that we could probably have bars and restaurants open, or schools open but, as a society, we probably shouldn’t do both. I am a teacher and I am in session in a hybrid model. After teaching virtually last spring and for the beginning of this school year, I can tell you it’s a million times easier to teach in person and way more fun. However, I feel that it’s a little like Russian Roulette. Eventually, we’re going to begin to get sick. The numbers are rising and there seems to be no end in sight. The Governor does not seem to have a clear plan for when schools with high infection rates should switch to remote learning. His Commissioner of Education keeps moving the goalposts for when a school should shut down. His latest directive states that a district can be “in the red” for 3 weeks before shutting down. It is for this reason that I have decided to have my own children attend school virtually. I’m fortunate that I have a spouse who is able to work from home and I know not everyone is as fortunate. As for teachers, if we do begin to get sick, I’m not sure where they’ll find subs to replace us. Someone on this thread stated that older teachers or medically compromised teachers should be given an administrative or a virtual position. In my district, for the most part, we have been able to do this but we are having difficulty filling the jobs left vacant. For positions where we used to have hundreds of applicants, we now have a handful of resumes to draw on. As for the health of our students and staff, we really don’t know how Covid impacts kids yet and, as for teachers, we know how quickly a seasonal flu can spread in a building. We’re very scared. As an aside, for those people who may think this is over, I personally know 5 people who’ve succumbed to this illness. Yes, two of them were elderly; another was a vibrant otherwise healthy 65 year old man. The other two men were in their 40’s, one of whom was a father of five young children. This disease can be random when it chooses its victims.

    1. Barabara, a local gym uses a system called something like Airphx. It puts out a tiny amount of Hydrogen Peroxide that sanitizes the air and surfaces. I have experienced this and find no problem. No, I am not advertizing it.
      Question:
      How many people in Watertown have fallen sick or have died lately of (not WITH) Covid-19 and how old were they?
      Of children, how many have tested positive and how are they and their families?
      We need stats not scare talk even though I know that a certain political party prefers that.

      1. The stats are availablefrom Town Hall. They are published weekly in an e-newsletter sent to residents who choose to be on the mailing list.

  12. From what I’ve read many school buildings (especially in Boston) have poor ventilation systems. I would think funding to meet that need should be high on the list.

    1. Stephen
      Three of my family members teach in the Boston public schools and you are correct about the ventilation in the schools. Most of the schools are very old and have not been maintained. Most of the schools are not neighborhood schools and Children travel on buses to and from school Perhaps if busing is eliminated and we bring back neighborhood schools the risk of infection can be better contained Every teacher I speak to wants to get back in the classroom but not until the buildings are safe.

  13. Thank you Senator Brownsberger for your thoughtful reflection and actions regarding the Covid pandemic. However, I think we all lost an opportunity for teachers to educate children outside during the summer and fall months and I don’t mean this in a blaming way. The pandemic caught us all off guard. Inside edition reported on a summer camp with 700 people that managed to stay covid free. https://www.insideedition.com/how-does-a-long-island-summer-camp-with-700-people-stay-covid-19-free-61414 I think we need to apply our community creativity when addressing this problem. A professional innovation team could be of help with them co-creating with your constituents. The City of Boston, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts and private industries all have innovation teams that could be consulted and perhaps some of them would be willing to do some pro-bono consultation.

    1. Thank you, Matthew, for your note. You mention the idea of an innovation team — this sounds wonderful! Might this be something, both collaborative and insightful, with participation that bridges perspectives and allows expression, towards finding solutions? Then, Senator, we need the support and funding (re-prioritization?) to implement the ideas that reach the top of the list.

      1. Jim, Senator Brownsberger has taken steps in the human-centered design innovation process that starts with listening to people who experience the problem (the empathy stage) and then reflection to define & articulate the problem. Then solutions can be ideated (the ideation phase) with his constituents based on the problem definition and these can be evaluated. A simple introduction to the method can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7sEoEvT8l8

      2. Jim, Thank you for your comments on my post. An innovation method popular here in Boston is Design Thinking also referred to as Human-centered design https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7sEoEvT8l8 . There are college programs at Bentley and Wentworth institute of technology. Other methods are Placemaking & Cultural Agency (both using art), Biomimicry (design inspired by nature), Human dimensions (used in conservation) TRIZ (the theory of inventive problem solving used in engineering). Whatever, the method it is useful to start with a human centered design approach that begins with listening, & observation with stakeholders directly involved with the problem, then reflection and defining the problem, ideating solutions and then creating and evaluating solutions. Senator Brownsberger has begun the process with listening and observation progressing through reflection.

  14. Matthew, I understand but the Democrats who control most school districts and teachers unions wanted parents to be miserable at missing schools so they would blame Trump.
    This is why riots took place and were permitted to go on and on with billions in damage and many deaths and murders in the big Dem cities.

    The idea was to energize the Dem base and blame the violence on Trump. That’s why few Dems spoke out about it, and not very often, including a certain local politician whose name we all know.
    The violence was allowed to happen in Portland, Oregon FOR ONE HINDRED DAYS (!) and even in Boston.
    It was deliberate. This is the Democratic Party these days.

      1. Haha for real, someone needs to give Dee a literal chill pill.
        As a “liberal”, I can tell you I absolutely did not WANT to lose a third of my income this year, I did not want to be on unemployment, I did not want to be isolated from my family… I absolutely despise our president but not enough to wish any of the hardships over the last 7 months on anyone.
        We’re all doing the best we can with what we have in front of us, there just isn’t a perfect answer for every person or every family. I appreciate Senator Brownsberger’s thoughtful comments and I hope we can come together to find solutions rather than throw more fuel onto the garbage fire that this year has been.

    1. One of out every seven residents in MA nursing homes has died from Covid. Covid is not a Democrat plot to get Trump thrown out. It is a disease that is quickly becoming the #1 killer of Americans (already passed accidents, overdoses, guns, and about to pass cancer and heart disease), is doing so at a higher rate in the poorer/blacker/poorer/diverse communities and it absolutely should not be taken lightly.
      Having said that, studies I’ve read show that school (with precautions) is relatively safe and the mental health impact and actual societal costs of keeping kids home is high. This means schools should be open, and yes, it will be expensive (including increased testing). Ignoring covid or pretending that it is purely political or that it is going away is foolish; I think I’d rather be accused of “panic-creating” and spending money appropriately.

  15. I am a teacher, and I love being in the classroom with my students. For reasons listed above, I will intend to teach as long as possible – even assuming (a not insubstantial amount of) personal risk to do so. However, there’s an emerging strain of tone-deafness to many of the ‘back at all costs’ arguments, and it’s feeling dangerously and irrationally anti-teacher.

    Elsewhere, the pro/con school reopening argument has become facetiously framed as an “it’s hard for everybody” story – but usually devolves into a back and forth of interviews between stressed parents who desire full return, and frustrated school administrators who are struggling to make it happen. In much of what I’ve read, teacher voice has been marginalized or reduced to glib complaints, and if presented at all, conveniently positioned as the antagonist to family desires to return to school. Sometimes, in anti-union circles, teachers have been set up as the fly in the ointment of well-intentioned plans laid by district leadership. (I am lucky to work in a district has been supportive and communicative).

    Just yesterday, I read arguments insinuating teacher as noble reactive idiots who don’t understand ‘data’ and respond only to the tide of irrational fears. There’s a word for this: scapegoating.

    The fact is that many educators are stuck in an unwinnable position, torn between too many masters. Every single aspect of our jobs shifted in March, and continues to shift by the minute. As a profession, we are contending with circumstances that simultaneously demand improved remote learning, better hybrid learning, fewer classes, more coverage, new subjects, staffing shortages, a full return to classrooms, no return to classrooms, sanitization of surfaces hourly, more social-emotional curriculum, more rigor, to make up lost time, to effectively modify and differentiate curriculum, an expansion of responsibilities, and expedient contractions of autonomy.

    We are dealing with Zoombombers, fending off advances from opportunistic edutech outfits, navigating new computer platforms, switching from home-teaching to in-the-building teaching on a moment’s notice, and back again the next day. We are answering midnight emails from confused students and exhausted parents,. We are trying to teach a classroom full of wonderful, wriggly, living, Covid-traumatized children, and simultaneously attend to a computer sitting on an empty desk that represents a number of other students, some of whom we might not ever meet. We are teaching Zoom calls to banks of black screens and trying to make connections with students who are either too scared, too shy, or for personal reasons unable to participate. We are fielding complaints from folks who don’t agree with what we’re teaching over Zoom. We are trying to distribute materials to young people who are miles away, without printers, who struggle to use email. We are trying to honor IEPs and 504s with fidelity, and support vulnerable students with significant disabilities that we only understand through paper. Demands have increased dramatically. for all teachers Most educators I know are working upwards of 60 hours every week just to keep on top of the minimal expectations of our contracts. Nobody is winning a ‘teacher of the year’ award this year.

    Every day, each of us assesses our risk tolerances. We watch sick kids come into the building, we try not to react when our students cough uncontrollably, or cluster tightly together, or touch their faces under the masks (and then the table, and then the door, and then their friend’s sleeve…) We watch numbers rise statewide, and watch colleagues in our building leave due to confirmed cases in their classes. We hear from students about parties and social gatherings by their families. Some of us live in communities with folks who openly flaunt rules of social distancing and mask-wearing. We have people insisting the disease is a hoax. And every day, every educator says: how much of this can I handle?

    It seems it must be said: on top of all of this strain, we have families too – no less importantly or urgently than the rest of our community. We’re suffering in the same ways as everybody else. Some of us have children attending remote programs while we’re in hybrid or in-person teaching positions, and plenty of educators have needed to retire, to take leaves, to reduce hours, or to quit to take care of their own household.

    Lastly, and personally, my father is an immunocompromised man with Parkinson’s disease who values living independently in his own home in another part of the state. Even pre-Covid, he was socially isolated and I was his lifeline to the outside world. But currently, I do not have the option to quarantine. I cannot get tested and stay away from my job for long enough to make sure I do not infect him. This (tentatively) means that I will not be able to visit with him until after the winter break, in December. In short, I can’t see or hug my father. In fact, nobody else can. As far as I know, the man has not been touched by another human being since March.

    Like many educators, I am now essentially a function of my my job. I work six or more days every week from dawn to dusk, I have given up all non-work related trips out of the home, and I see no relief from this situation. I have spent hundreds (thousands?) of dollars buying technology so that I can teach effectively across modalities. I am not self-aggrandizing or martyring for effect: I’m tired, unhealthy, confused, determined –– and despite all of this, vibrantly happy when I’m with with my students. But the thing that’s killing me is the deplatforming of educators themselves. Yes, we have voices from school administration. Yes, DESE and school committees have way to make themselves heard. Yes, we have voices from impacted families. But where is support for the educators themselves? Does it exist beyond ‘thoughts and prayers?’ Here is a question nobody in power has asked, and I desperately wish they would:

    “Knowing that educator working conditions are the great predictors of student success, what can we do to help educators successfully work with our children?”

  16. Good analysis of the pros and cons regarding schools in the age of COVID/Trump. Unsafe schools are no panacea; home learning can be trying for parents and children. On line learning works for the best and brightest- not so much for the rest. Teachers in hybrid classes have to do a huge amount of lessons/preparation.
    Making the schools safe is very costly. Really a dilemma.
    Regarding COVID testing , it would be best to have them in drive-in parking lots.
    These are times that try people’s souls

  17. Senator, thank you for your posting and for eliciting comments.
    For me, most important seems to be, how can we make people comfortable with in-school education?
    Be tactical and specific: and it will cost money. Funding can be re-prioritized (what is more important?), but that requires work to build consensus not sidelining and grandstanding. School buildings: ventilation, large spaces, less dense groups/classes, more teachers (lower student-to-teacher ratio), staggered class schedules (slightly longer class days), PPE for adults, weekly and on-demand testing for all (teachers, students, all) — there are many options, we can create more.
    Note I did not mention remote learning, which I view as last resort when actual attempts at the other means fails. Sadly, we jumped, from our lack of knowledge and from fear of unknown, too quickly to separation without consideration of other means.
    We can reconsider. It is never too late to start — we can always re-start now!

  18. I am an educator. I worked for Many years in BPS. My kids ended up in private schools (which is a whole other story). I have one child whose school allows her to be in person 2days a week. I have another with serious medical issues who we had to choose between full time in school in person learning- with *all* teachers and staff in the building at once with no testing- or full remote. We were not comfortable with a full building, so despite his social need, he is full remote. It’s such a complicated landscape. And, it is also crazy-making for everyone from parents to teachers to administrators to politicians. There are no good answers here right now in these circumstances!

    Children do need to be in school, but even before this, schools were working with horrendous short falls. Students with special needs probably do need more reliable consistent therapy interventions, services, and direct learning opportunities- but black and brown children are way over represented in special ed and I was worried that sending the special needs classes back to buildings first would be akin to making them an experiment in virus transmission. Some families need more coverage, some families can’t handle the risks, some teachers are vulnerable. It goes on and on, right?

    I don’t think there are any easy answers- but it all leads back to testing. Quick, easy, routine testing. It sounds like Senator Brownsberger is putting his efforts in the right place.

    For the record, saying that “Catholic and private schools are doing it, why can’t everyone?” is a falsehood that is sweeping through the conversations. The circumstances of Catholic, charter, and some private schools are extraordinarily dissimilar. Catholic schools are making rules and requiring families to follow them- because they can. They can require you to show your child has been tested each week or more, they can require parents sign a document stating they will go from home to school to work and that’s it. They can do this and remove families who are non compliant. They do remove non compliant families with little to no backlash. They can require things of their teachers that no public school can. Or, that many teachers are uncomfortable with- yet better to have a job than not. (Same with charters, and to some extent private schools.) Our public schools have to take and keep *everyone* no matter what. (Thank goodness.) They have the kids in the most educational, social, emotional, physical, mental, and socioeconomic need. It is driving me crazy that the work done in public schools is compared to the incomparable circumstances and resources of other types of schools.

    I believe it is impossible to fill every void for every child and every family in this pandemic. Needs abound. Our best chance for everyone, in every type of school, is good testing. (And please, dear g-d, some better leadership from the top starting this Tuesday!)

    Please vote, if you haven’t yet!

  19. The Covid-19 pandemic is worsening inequality in the United States in many different ways, but one of them that concerns me the most is the disparate impact of the pandemic on private-school vs. public-school education.

    To be sure, there are public schools that have handled the challenges of the pandemic well and private schools that have handled them badly, but two reasonably accurate generalizations are (1) private schools are doing a better job dealing with the pandemic than public schools, and (2) private-school students tend to be wealthier and whiter than public-school students due to the inequities that already existed in our society prior to the pandemic.

    One of the reasons private schools have done better is because they *must* do better to survive: if they don’t, parents will pull their kids, and their tuition dollars, out of the schools.

    There are a lot of other reasons as well. For example… Private schools usually have more money and often have better facilities than public schools. They’re less crowded so they can successfully social-distance the kids on school grounds. They can be more nimble because they are not hobbled by bureaucracy. They can, frankly, push their teachers harder because most private schools aren’t unionized. Good private schools are already accustomed to thinking outside the box, trying new things on a regular basis, and developing methods of differentiated instruction, all crucial skills for responding quickly to the pandemic.

    Ultimately, what all this means is that public-school education has deteriorated during the pandemic a lot more than private-school education, and the impact of this will be felt by public-school students for long after the pandemic is under control, which isn’t going to be until mid-2021 at best.

    I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about this, but it really, really worries me. There is just so much inequality in our society, and I’m incredibly saddened to see it made worse for our nation’s kids in a way that is going to have a long-lasting negative impact.

    1. “Ultimately, what all this means is that public-school education has deteriorated during the pandemic a lot more than private-school education”

      This is unsourced, spurious, glib and insulting to the people who are trying to make public schools work.

      1. I mean no disrespect to the teachers, faculty, staff, and administration of public schools, who are all going above and beyond during the pandemic, doing every they can to provide a quality education to their students, and in many cases putting themselves at personal risk in the process. They deserve our gratitude, and they certainly have mine.

        That doesn’t change the fact that private schools had things easier than public schools in many ways before the pandemic, and on average provided significantly better outcomes for students than public schools, and the circumstances of the pandemic aggravate all of the things that cause those inequities.

        There is plenty of news reporting the difficulties public schools have faced dealing with the pandemic, accessible to anyone who knows how to use a search engine.

        Just one example: I live in Boston. I have two kids in private schools. Both of their schools have remained open for in-person instruction since late August. In contrast, Boston Public Schools just went entirely remote because of the pandemic. Other nearby districts including Waltham are remote-only right now. Who do you think is getting a better education right now; the kids at private schools who are attending in person, or the kids in public schools that are remote-only?

        I don’t mean to suggest that there are no public schools doing well during the pandemic. Just as there were struggling and successful districts before the pandemic, there are struggling and successful districts now. But I think it’s unwise for us to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that there have always been inequities between public and private schools and those inequities are being greatly exacerbated by the pandemic.

  20. “The current diagnostic nasal swab test is uncomfortable and expensive.” The deep-probing described by columnists months ago has given way to shallower nasal swabbing. (I had to get a test a couple of weeks ago due to a possible exposure; this was also reported in the Globe in the last couple of days.) I suspect some of the prices represent a substantial markup, but note that there are free no-questions alternatives sponsored by the state.

  21. I don’t have answers to the present predicament. I see the value of kids being in person, I see the value of kids being safe from a virus we still do not completely understand. I think it’s important for there to be contact hours with a teacher, whether remote or in-person, and what might be best for elementary students, may not be the best choice for middle or high school students. What I do know is that this is an extraordinary time. We have to have some expectation that we cannot, any of us, expect that the educational content of this year will match a “normal” year. In the end, we do all have this in common: we care about our kids, our families, and, hopefully, our communities. The people we are demonizing are our neighbors, the people who help us pickup run-away garbage cans, bring our mail when it is mis-delivered, work on PTAs, interact with our families in ways we can’t even know. I hope that we can find a way to remember that we all of us, or almost all, have good intent, even if we may disagree with how things are done. And calling names, demonizing the other side, spouting conspiracies that just make no sense, all of this damages the fabric of our community. We’re all afraid, mad, sad, anxious; but we can be stronger if we listen and work together, apologize when we step over the line, and get back to trying to understand each other’s points of view so that we can come to some consensus to move forward.

  22. Large scale and effective contact tracing is key to stopping the pandemic together with mandatory mask wearing.

  23. Thanks for the as-always thoughtful comments, Will. I’m a scientist at a biotech, so I’m moved by data. The data show that a major vector in the spread of coronavirus is indoor talking and dining like at bars and restaurants. Red states have run the experiment for us demonstrating that grade schools (with reasonable precautions) are not a major factor in the spread of the coronavirus.

    I struggle with how I will explain to my second grader when she’s older why her second grade year was so lackluster. I don’t expect that “You essentially missed out on 8% of your grade school education, but at least people could go out to eat” will be a satisfying explanation.

    France and Germany are also moved by data. They instituted a second lockdown earlier this week. Restaurants and bars are closed. Shops and schools are open.

  24. A whole article and you didn’t mention once actively speaking with The Boston Teachers Union. Shame on you for referring to teachers as baby-sitters and implying the hardships of parenting should be passed on to an underpaid job. And shame on you for being classist and not referring to unhoused people as such.

  25. I believe opening schools is of utmost importance to our democracy and society for the long term. Children need the benefits for their development to be in school as safely as possible. The DESE should support, not threaten school districts, in their efforts to reopen as safely as possible while ensuring that the students’ education is not being compromised.

  26. Reading through your suggestions, comments, and experiences I am awed by your courage, creativity, and endurance. Nothing in the sudden transition into our new world has broken me but I find my cheeks wet with tears. Forge ahead and accept there is no normal to return to–that path has closed forever. In a day when you consider just giving up remember that I, a nobody who you will never meet, sincerely and whole heartedly pray for you daily.

  27. I’m furious that people think this is all a political ploy. So many nurses have died from being blind-sided by this virus that hospitals are hiring nurses from out of state. People – this is real and is essentially a war, with nurses on the front lines. If you can’t handle an invisible enemy, pretend you are in London during the bombings every night. Would you refuse to black out your windows because it is political?

  28. Hey, folks. This is a public-service announcement for those of you who, like me, appreciate for the most part the thoughtful discussion that takes place on Senator Brownsberger’s web site but find that that some of the regular commenters detract from the experience.

    To improve the experience here for myself, I wrote a Google Chrome extension which allows the user to automatically hide all comments from certain people, and optionally the replies to those comments as well. It has occurred to me that others might benefit from this as well, so I have decided to share this extension with the public. (Just to be entirely clear: this will only work for you if you use Google Chrome on the desktop as your browser when reading this site.)

    I am in the process of getting the extension published on the Chrome Web Store, but in the meantime, you can install it manually as described here. There are also instructions on that page for how to use it once you have installed it.

    If you have any questions or run into any issues with the extension, feel free to email me.

    I hope this improves the experience here for some of you as it has for me.

  29. We should be rethinking the whole system. Turn to home schooling and apprenticeships. What was the structure in the 1800’s? I don’t think the idea of industrial scale public education is workable. You can make a case for special needs being in school but the teachers really need to become learning consultants doing house calls to parents for guidance on curriculum etc. The system now is evolving into teen and preteen day care. Someone is cranking the system that requires 2 breadwinners. That has crashed and is no longer working

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