NPS: Students call for the adoption of the NTA Reopening Plan
This petition had 1,116 supporters
Created by Newton South High School seniors Melissa Shang and Carrie Ryter
The reopening plan approved by the Newton School Committee (SC) on Aug. 14, known as a “hybrid plan,” is incomplete, unsafe, and inequitable. Newton students, teachers, and families deserve better. As Newton Public Schools (NPS) students, we know our schools, and we trust our teachers; therefore, it is imperative that the SC reverses its decision and supports the Newton Teachers Association’s (NTA) responsible and just model.
By Aug. 18, families had to fill out a survey opting for the elusive Distance Learning Academy (DLA) or NPS’s hybrid model, despite countless unanswered questions. To not fill out the survey would be to unenroll your child in NPS for the 2020-21 school year.
In the hybrid model, students are in school buildings from day one, currently set for Sept. 16. Within each school, students are split into cohorts A, B, and C, with C being those students who require more in-person time and support and A and B split by family. Groups A and B will never be in a given school building simultaneously.
The Return to Learn Blueprint has an utter disregard for health and safety and inhibits the ability of educators to provide quarantined students with the caliber of education that NPS prides itself on. The plan states that masks are required for students grades PreK-12, with exceptions being made for certain medical and behavioral challenges. While PPE has been purchased, there is not enough for all staff and faculty, and educators are yet to receive a distribution plan. There is no clear public protocol for the inevitable event in which a student or educator is diagnosed with COVID-19: questions regarding contact tracing, identity protection, quarantining, and transitioning online remain.
Our SC members were given under five hours to review the blueprint prior to the public meeting on Aug. 10; they were expected to vote on Aug. 12 and, after the vote was postponed because SC members had unanswered questions, the SC voted on Aug. 14. Families and teachers had to fill out surveys due only three days later. As a result, in contrast to the abundant time afforded to the planning committee prior to Aug. 10, no other party — families, teachers, or SC members — were given adequate time to ask questions and deliberate prior to decision making. Before making significant health and educational decisions, families deserved answers to such significant questions as quarantining protocol, mask-wearing implementation, and distance learning curriculum offerings — none of which have been specified to date.
A chief issue with the current option between DLA and hybrid is that it is rife with inequities. It, like so many systems, is designed to benefit students who are white, privileged, abled, and live in Newton. In doing so, it discriminates against a large portion of NPS students and teachers, including those with disabilities, those living in Boston or other non-Newton areas, and those with limited access to healthcare. Unlike their abled counterparts, individuals with disabilities or who are at increased risk have no choice but to select the DLA. With no guarantees of requested courses at the high-school level, such students are being forced to choose between their health and their education. Further, low rates of infection in Newton were stated as a primary reason for in-person or hybrid learning: this operates on the assumption that all NPS students and faculty live in Newton, which is far from true. Students who are a part of the METCO program were almost entirely left out of the conversation. Many educators similarly live outside of Newton and may have children in other districts. The higher COVID-19 levels in inner cities and marginalized communities were not discussed, nor were the commuting logistics. A fully remote model, as the NTA model proposes to start the year, is the only way to ensure that students who cannot attend in-person school are afforded the same educational and social-emotional opportunities as those who can.
Another issue is that the schedules in the current hybrid model largely do not adhere to CDC and DESE guidelines that advise restricted and discrete groups of close contacts of students and staff. By neglecting to take such measures, it reduces the ability to isolate positive cases, increasing the likelihood of an outbreak that leads to full school closure. It also complicates efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts, especially in Newton, where cases are currently in a lower range but could quickly change.
Teachers and parents have been advocating against the hybrid plan for weeks, even before it was finalized, from directly sending the school board emails to posting their opposition in Facebook groups, including “Parents, Educators, NPS Staff and Students in Support of Newton Schools” and “Newton Civic Action Forum.” However, there is no evidence that their efforts are being acted upon by the district. It is unfair that the district is excluding the voices that are most knowledgeable about youth and care the most about youth’s wellbeing.
The current NPS plan, however, does not have to be the only plan. The NTA has developed a comprehensive plan approved by educators, students, and parents proposing that school starts remotely and switches to a hybrid model when the NTA and NPS agree that it is safe to do so. Upon reaching this agreement, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and younger grades would be prioritized to re-enter school buildings. Under the NTA’s remote plan, there will be a mix of synchronous and asynchronous structured learning, accounting for five to five and a half hours four days per week.
When the NTA hybrid model is put into action, students will continue to have the option to stay remote, with continued connection to their peers and education directly from their teachers (rather than the potentially outsourced ones of the DLA). Students and educators will also be in intentional small groups designed to minimize the number of close contacts at all grade levels. The NPS model, on the other hand, does not make it clear how or whether they will minimize close contacts, particularly at the high-school level. The NTA is prepared to work with the school committee to discuss scheduling and structural factors upon implementation of their proposed hybrid model (after a remote start). Further, once a student gets a positive diagnosis, there will be immediate isolation, quarantining, and testing for close contacts, but the name of the diagnosed student will be anonymous -- this procedure is far more clearly outlined than it is in the NPS model.
The NTA acknowledges lingering questions in their model, including specific details regarding changes in teaching and learning practices, accommodations, sick time, and leaves of absence. They are actively working to find solutions and would be better-equipped to do so with the district and community support they deserve.
The SC and district administration who made the current decision are completely disconnected from the in-school experience. Teachers, on the other hand, know students and school buildings; their voices therefore should be at the center of this discussion. They are telling us that health, equity, and academics will be best-suited in an all-remote model -- why aren’t we listening? Further, remote learning allows for the same amount of teaching per week, but all students in a class would be on the same schedule. The NTA remote model provides the same academic offerings to all students in a given grade level; the same cannot be said for the DLA. The NTA’s model is logical and clearly holds students’ needs -- including those of students with disabilities and METCO students -- paramount; it should be implemented.
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