Westborough schools to return to in-person learning

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By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

Westborough Public Schools logoWestborough – The Westborough School Committee voted unanimously Feb. 24 to support the district’s plans to provide more in-person learning for students. In addition, they urged administrators to move with “urgency and haste,” to make returning to school a priority.

Superintendent Amber Bock said she recognized that families could not continue with the status quo, a mixture of remote and hybrid learning. In the end, she said, she wants a “healthy community,” where parents and teachers are not in adversarial positions and where all stakeholders—including students—have their academic and emotional needs met.

Plans for different grades

Bock described all the preparations and meetings that are on-going in order to handle the logistics of bringing students back into school buildings four days per week.

For parents who so choose, Kindergarten children are expected to return four days per week on Monday,  March 8.

Under the plan, students in grades to one to six would return in early to mid-April and students in all grades would be back in the classroom from mid-April to June, “if conditions allow.”

If possible, the return dates may be sooner but logistics around scheduling, transportation, lunch planning, etc. are currently being worked out. For example, in older grades, the number of students in particular courses may not translate to situations where enough distancing can occur.

The superintendent said they are trying to determine how schedules can be staggered or rooms moved in order to provide three-feet of distancing between kids. Gov. Charlie Baker also has not laid out specific timetables so Westborough’s timeline is “in the mix or in front of many districts,” according to Bock.

Parents share thoughts and concerns

Earlier in the meeting, several parents spoke about the need to get students back in school and the detrimental effects of remote and/or hybrid learning.

Michael Barretti, a pulmonary care physician and parent of three children, said he had been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 so he had first-hand knowledge from several perspectives.

He said he found the staggered return approach “over conservative,” and said that the idea of “total eradication,” of the disease is not possible before a return. He also spoke about the low transmission rates between children and noted that private, Catholic and other public schools had in-person learning with few problems.

Barretti added that the district must prioritize the educational and emotional well-being of students and “less the emotion and other alternative motives that may be at play of who is on what side of this discussion.”

Assistant Superintendent Daniel Mayer outlined the results of a February parent survey on the subject.

Parents of 2,663 students or 68 percent responded as to the model they would prefer if four days per week in school was added as an option.

  • Remote was the choice of 19.7 percent respondents
  • Hybrid learning was preferred by 16.7 percent of parents who responded
  • About 63 percent were in favor of an in-person return to school

Mayer said in the beginning of the year, the split was one-third for each option. Although a majority of parents who responded want students to go back, “it’s still hardly a consensus,” he said.

He noted that with hybrid removed in favor of four days per week, about 25 percent of students will likely remain learning remotely.

In addition, 49.3 percent indicated they would need bus transportation.

Bock said that administrators have to identify the parents who did not respond in order to nail down who goes where.

Kindergarten parents surveyed were largely in favor of in-person learning (74.3 percent) with 25.7 percent opting for fully remote. A total of 218 parents or more than 70 percent completed the survey.