Hybrid Plan Fails to Deliver for Elementary Aged Students (Needham, MA)

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Dear Needham School Committee, Dr. Gutekanst, and town leaders:

Thank you for your dedication and effort in developing our schools’ reopening plans. We acknowledge that these are unprecedented times, and are eager to support our community in providing the best experience for our students and teachers. However, we, as parents of Needham elementary school students, are writing this letter to express our significant concerns about the hybrid program’s ability to provide comprehensive learning. We would like to see immediate actions taken to improve the hybrid model for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year as well as provide a clear path to full time reopening for our youngest learners. There are many families who share our concerns and we are motivated to take action together. 

Our concerns: For the approximately 85% of Needham elementary children participating in hybrid learning, the current education plan does not provide sufficient instruction or live support to deliver a full year of Needham’s typical rich curriculum. Elementary teachers reported on the 10/20 School Committee meeting that their split focus (“feels like they have two jobs”) is unsustainable, overwhelming and they worry about delivering the academic and emotional support children need as well as shared concerns over equity issues. Furthermore, the current one-size-fits-all approach to reopening does not acknowledge the unique academic and social emotional needs of elementary-aged children. Our families are struggling with managing home and online work, and the hybrid plan leaves our children unsupported and requires independence not reasonable for young children.  The long-lasting and devastating consequences of the current approach are now well documented (see AAP and Harvard). This must be addressed immediately.

We are not suggesting that the health risks of COVID-19 are not real. However, Needham has been very successful in managing community spread, data continues to show that children and healthy adults are at low-risk, early data indicates that schools are not super-spreader sites, and our town has fortunately not seen a death since June. We suggest that we continue to follow the advice of WHO and DESE to both prioritize in-person learning and simultaneously ensure the latest, appropriate safety measures. 

We are asking for you to implement the following as quickly as possible:       

1. Evaluate all options for maximizing live instruction during at-home weeks, including live streaming of classes, reallocation of all teaching resources (teachers, aides, specialists, etc.) and building space to provide meaningful instruction and support (many neighboring towns have implemented live streaming to at-home learners successfully).

2. Release curriculum plans for how educators will meet the standards for elementary education under a hybrid plan. There are concerns about the time on learning on Wednesdays in particular. 

3. Develop a detailed plan to resume full-time in-person learning for elementary students as soon as possible. 

4. Give full transparency on the metrics you are monitoring and factors considered (e.g. health data, financial considerations, teacher and union negotiations, etc.) that will enable in-person learning.                                                                                       

5. Hold regular community open houses and family surveys to facilitate meaningful dialogue, hear real-time feedback and report on actions taken.

6. Secure now the resources and budget required for in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year.

We urge members of committee and town leaders to provide a meaningful and immediate response.

Respectfully,

The concerned parents of Needham elementary schoolchildren



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