Raise The Bar

I am writing with an update on our plans for the start of our 2020-21 school year in the Freetown-Lakeville Regional School District. We are tentatively scheduled to resume student learning on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. Our planning process continues to be guided by a vigilant monitoring of public health data in Massachusetts, and we are encouraged that indicators about the virus continue to move in the right direction. The Commonwealth’s careful and disciplined approach has enabled our state to gradually begin reopening, in part because of strong compliance with health and safety precautions. The question now on all of our minds is how and when we apply those lessons learned to begin safely reopening our schools.

As you have heard, the Massachusetts Department of Education has directed districts to submit a preliminary plan today that addresses the feasibility of three options for serving students at the start of the school year. Those options include a full return to daily, in-person attendance, a hybrid plan combining in- school learning, with some remote learning, and, finally, a 100% remote learning program.  A  district’s final plan, approved by the School Committee, is due to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by August 10th. Given the significant changes these plans will require in the way schools operate, we also must negotiate our proposal with all employee unions impacted: teachers, administrators, and paraprofessionals. We are on a very tight timeline--a mere two weeks until the August 10th deadline set by the DESE for submitting final fall plans.

Of course, we know that under normal circumstances, students would be best served in schools every day, interacting with their peers and engaged in live classroom learning. While our educators and families worked incredibly hard last spring to implement remote learning, we know that approach presented enormous challenges, did not reach all students (particularly those with the greatest needs), and is not an adequate substitute for in-person interaction with teachers. When out of school, our students also lack access to all of the academic, mental, and physical supports that help ensure their social-emotional well-being, particularly in navigating the effects of trauma during these tremendously challenging times. Therefore, we believe our families and students deserve more than a fully remote learning plan. 

In order to adhere to the school re-opening guidance provided by DESE, consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Pediatric Association, we also do not believe we can safely  meet physical  distancing requirements with all students and staff in the buildings at the same time. However, we do believe we can make significant changes in our school schedules and operating procedures to make a partial return to in-person learning both safe and successful. This approach will require strategies to ensure physical distancing, as well as a series of other critical health and safety measures, including wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, cleaning and sanitizing facilities, screening regularly for symptoms of illness, and staying home from school when sick, among others. Our planning process includes a comprehensive set of strategies and investments to minimize the risk of transmitting the virus.. 

As a result, we will pursue negotiations with all impacted unions for a hybrid learning plan, which would bring the students back into school buildings for in-person instruction in smaller, socially distanced groups on a rotating basis, combined with a robust remote learning program on the days students are not scheduled to  be physically in school. This plan also enables us to bring a subset of students in greatest need of in-person instruction and support, particularly students with disabilities, back to school every day – but also in smaller, distanced settings with all other precautions in place. 

We recognize that the circumstances of every family and staff member are different, and that no plan ultimately will satisfy everyone in our school community. But rest assured that we are working diligently to explore every option available to us, that we remain guided by the science to keep our students and staff safe and healthy, and that we will be prepared to make adjustments along the way if the public health conditions or other variables change over time. 

As we move closer to a final plan, we welcome input and feedback from all of our stakeholders. We invite you to share your questions, comments, and ideas to help inform and strengthen our plans. We will keep you informed about our progress in developing a final plan and in our negotiations with the unions. We will continue to post updates on our website.  I am confident that we can  prioritize both safety and learning as we prepare for the start of a successful school year.  

As we continue to prepare for a safe return in the fall for all of our students, the local regional task force (Reopening Freelake) will hold our next public meeting on Monday, August 10, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. in the ARHS auditorium. Our goal remains the safe return of as many students as possible to in-person school settings, to maximize learning and address our students’ holistic needs. Please review the updated website for the most recent DESE guidance and our most recent task force presentation. In addition, please watch this informative video: 

                   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHiEThCMROc

Please be reminded the Superintendent’s Office remains open during the summer months and will be open 8:00-2:00 during the month of August. Our next school committee meeting will be next Wednesday, August 5, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Our agenda and connection information will be available on our website under Announcements. Please continue to stay safe during the summer months. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call  508-923-2000 ext. 1703 or email me at rmedeiros@freelake.org.