Editor’s note: The following is a statement from the Hopkinton Teachers Association. It was read during Thursday night’s School Committee meeting. Check the Independent website on Friday for more from Thursday’s night’s meeting.
Dear School Committee members,
The Hopkinton Teachers Association unequivocally rejects the latest timetable presented by the superintendent for a “full return” to school. The HTA is fully aware of the desire of multiple stakeholders, including Hopkinton educators, for students to return to traditional in-person schooling, but even the strongest desire does not excuse reckless action. The hasty nature of this plan is problematic on multiple counts.
First, the district opted out of the commonwealth’s new pooled-testing program, which Governor Baker endorsed in January as a measure to reduce infection risk in schools and accelerate a safe return to the classroom. The first six weeks of this initiative would have been funded by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education at no cost to the district. Commissioner Riley recently cited the availability of pooled testing as justification for districts to phase in a full return to school, beginning with grades K-5, in April.
Second, educators remain ineligible for vaccination. On February 18, when the commonwealth expanded vaccine eligibility, Governor Baker reported it would likely take at least one month to vaccinate these newly eligible individuals before being able to vaccinate educators. As a result, educators all over the state are at least another month away from being eligible to sign up for a first dose of the vaccine. At the February 4 School Committee meeting, when weighing the options between opening schools sooner without teacher vaccinations, or waiting one month to allow for teachers to receive vaccinations, the superintendent stated, “I would be 100 percent in favor of taking that time to ensure that the educators in our district would have the opportunity for vaccination.” She went on to note that “The vaccine is that final step that we can take to ensure that the adults in our community can be immunized and feel much safer.” We agree.
Third, as of January 26th the Hopkinton Department of Health has abandoned the Hopkinton Public Schools in their contract-tracing efforts, putting the burden solely on the shoulders of our amazing nurses and building administrators. When the Hopkinton Department of Health was involved, they had at times drawn conclusions about school safety that were contradicted by health departments in neighboring communities. Furthermore, the district’s decision to overrule the CDC’s continued recommendation of 6 feet of social distancing will result either in a higher number of students who must quarantine when exposed or a faster retreat from proper contact tracing, both of which will cause greater disruption to learning and more stress for students and staff.
The HTA wants to return to the kind of school days and practices that have driven us to become one of the most highly rated districts in the nation. However, as much as we wish for a return to normal, we have serious concerns about the logistics of a full in-person return and what it would look like in practice for the entire school community. Parents of hybrid students reported receiving a survey that presented two options: a full in-person return without 6 feet of social distancing or a full remote model. Parents were told that if they selected remote, their child may be given a new teacher when in actuality many hybrid students will also be given a new teacher as schedule changes will be necessary. With only those two options, and no chance to opt for a continuation of any form of hybrid learning, the majority of parents selected the full return. Parents of fully remote students were not even surveyed. The district has not been transparent about what a full in-person plan will look like as they sought the opinions of the town, nor have they addressed the impact of a full in-person return on remote or hybrid students. Below are just a few examples of the many logistical challenges we face if we rush to uproot our current hybrid instructional model.
● Most students on IEPs will need new schedules to accommodate another new learning model. Service delivery will be impacted, and until now the district has prioritized our highest-needs students. This will no longer be the case and a host of additional changes will be imposed on these students, many of whom rely on consistency and routine for academic success.
● Schools are required to build classes that adhere to certain ratios of general education students to special education students; these ratios will be off-balance with a full return. This change could force students to move to different teachers, remove specialists from classes where they are needed, overpopulate liaisons’ classrooms, or cause classes to have a higher percentage of special education students than the law allows.
● Classes were created and teachers were assigned to them within the hybrid framework; there is not enough space in the buildings to bring students from the green and orange cohorts back together in the same classrooms. In some cases, students will need to be moved to larger communal spaces, where multiple classes will be held simultaneously. In other cases, hybrid students and remote students will have new teachers and classmates.
● Classrooms across the district currently have half as many desks in them as they would require for a return to a full-time schedule, and those desks are currently being used to create adequate social distancing at lunch. It is hard to understand why the custodial staff would be asked to return all classrooms to full capacity over a single weekend.
● Students have endured an already turbulent year with many changes to their schedules. Students will need to re-acclimate to attending school full-time; it would be ineffective for students’ socioemotional well-being to force this re-acclimation now, and with the proposed time frame, amid the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic.
Throughout this historic and challenging year, the HTA has raised concerns not only about health and safety but also about best practices for student learning, social development, and emotional well-being. These concerns have been routinely dismissed or ignored by the district administration and the School Committee. The HTA believes that a full return can happen safely at some point in the near future, with pooled testing and after educators have had the opportunity to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We demand that our schools operate safely within an instructional model that enables all of our students to learn and grow to the best of their abilities.
On behalf of the Hopkinton Teachers Association,