The first day of school on Sept. 16 looked different from years past in Newton Public Schools. The reopening of the district involved a combination of in-person classes and remote learning, depending on students’ age groups.
Elementary schools started the school year fully online. A hybrid format will be implemented for elementary school students beginning in phases. Ruth Goldman, a Newton School Committee member of Ward 6, explained that the elementary schools will move to a hybrid program by the week of Sept. 29.
“I’m excited that schools started yesterday,” said Goldman. “I live on the same street as elementary schools, and it’s great to see people walking by every day. It’s taken so much work and planning to get to the first day of school, and it feels like a great achievement.”
Goldman said that every student in Newton was given the opportunity to choose a full-distance program, and 20 to 25 percent of elementary school students will be learning through the full-distance program.
Middle school students began school in a distance learning model. The middle schools will start implementing a hybrid format after the second marking term in November.
High schools will be taught fully online. Goldman says this is due to the complexities that come with the high schools’ more diverse course offerings, as well as limited classroom space.
Goldman said that it would be nearly impossible for all the high school courses to be accommodated for both hybrid and fully distant students. To implement this type of learning, high schools would have to consider shrinking and consolidating courses.
In a school committee presentation on Sept. 2, the new health and safety procedures were outlined in further detail. Some of these procedures included installing hand sanitizing stations, portable sinks, and replacing ventilators.
On Aug. 26 the school committee announced a revised reopening plan after a survey to families showed distance learning was preferred at the elementary school level, while many were concerned about the equity of hybrid and distance learning at the high school level.
In this revised plan, the high schools shifted to a distance learning model.
Following this announcement, Newton parents and students protested outside of City Hall on Aug. 26. Families were seen holding signs reading “Education is Essential” and “Ms. Fuller, Unlock These Schools.”
Goldman said that plans for high school hybrid programs are in the process, assuming that “COVID numbers don’t go crazy.”
While many other districts implemented online platforms to teach their students, the public schools in Newton have committed to having Newton Public School teachers teach every program, Goldman said.
There was a great effort in the planning process to maintain an equitable experience for all students and to minimize class sizes to ensure that all students can interact with their teachers, Goldman said.
Goldman was pleased that the technology being used worked. NPS ensured that all students have access to a device, either an iPad for students grades Pre-K through 2, or a Chromebook for students grades 3 through 12.
“Things went relatively well,” Goldman said. “There were a lot of bigger technology glitches across the state, but we had very minor problems. We overall got maybe two emails about it.”
While all students grades Pre-K through 8 should receive their devices by the start of this week, the 1,000 Chromebooks being provided to ninth graders have been delayed until January 2021, according to Newton Public Schools. Students in grades 10 through 12 have already been issued devices.
While the reopening of the Newton Public Schools is off to a good start, Goldman stated that if the City of Newton becomes classified as a red zone on the community data map, schools are expected to shut down.
“If Newton’s average daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents increases above eight cases per 100,000 residents (a.ka. a “red” level), an all remote model is expected (unless there are extenuating circumstances),” Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said in a statement on Thursday.
The positivity rate in the City of Newton is .46 percent as of Sept. 16, according to the community data map. This is lower than the average state positivity rate of .97 percent.
The risk COVID-19 risk level increased from low to moderate on Sept. 16. This was reflected on the community data map by a change in color from green to yellow. Communities are designated yellow on the map when there are at least four cases per 100,000 people. Communities are designated red on the map when there are at least eight cases per 100,000 people.
“The things that would send us off track are things that are out of our control, like high school parties and the situation at Boston College,” Goldman said.
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons