Below are answers to some frequently asked questions that have beehttps://www.westonschools.org/blog/2021/02/19/updated-district-faqs-hybrid-model/n brought up at the Weston School Committee meetings over the past several weeks regarding the Hybrid model and proposed changes. Each question is bulleted with answers following in bold.
Section 1. Current Conditions
- Why are Wednesdays remote days? What benefits are there?
In September, remote Wednesdays were seen as time for classes to come together across cohorts and models as a school community. They are also useful afternoons for educators to work on professional development, curriculum planning, and more. This Winter, we were forced to go all-remote on other days of the week due to inclement weather, and at the secondary level those days were changed to Wednesday schedules; Wednesdays became in person days for those weeks, helping provide relative stability in the schedule. Still, we are eager for more in-person learning, and so we have recently proposed making Wednesdays in-person half-days for WMS and WHS students.
- What are the basic social distancing guidelines being used in the schools?
Currently our classrooms have desks four feet apart, which puts students six feet apart nose-to-nose. These distancing guidelines have been in place since the start of the year, and have been supported by Weston’s Board of Health, and the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). DESE now advises “3-to-6” feet of social distancing as general guidance, with the number six being underlined by DESE. In recent guidance from February 12, 2021, the CDC advises us that distancing of at least 6 feet “should be maximized to the greatest extent possible.” That recommendation and more can be found online here in the executive summary and the full report here, and also this visualization.
- Why are elementary students back in 5 days without cohorts but MS and HS are not?
MS and HS students are currently split into two cohorts and attend school on different days because it is the only way for them to be in school in person and comply with six-feet distancing guidelines. All hybrid students are back in their classrooms at a distance of six-feet nose to nose with desks four-feet apart. In the summer we worked with Buildings and Grounds to conduct a feasibility study to determine our capacity at each school. By creating additional classrooms and hiring additional faculty, we were able to provide space for all elementary students to attend school five days per week. However, WMS and WHS do not have enough educational space, nor enough faculty members, to accommodate all students at the same time with desks spaced four feet apart. Further, the minimal transitions in our elementary schools keep students in their same classrooms all morning, which helps reduce the risk of community spread. By contrast, students in WMS and WHS move from classroom to classroom, making appropriate social distance impossible during hallway passing times. In addition, secondary students sit with different groups of their peers in each class, increasing the risk of spread of the virus.
- Why are in-person days for WMS and WHS hybrid students only until 1 P.M., rather than attend full days that extend further into the afternoon? Lunch?
Safety challenges involved with indoor dining during lunches are the main concern. After negotiating throughout 2020 with the teacher’s union (the Weston Education Association, also known as the WEA), the administration determined that the best way to get students safely learning in classrooms was to bring each cohort in-person for the mornings. Students leaving for lunchtime and resuming remotely in the afternoons assisted WMS and WHS in keeping students coming in person safely each week since we returned this fall.
- What contracts and/or agreements in place with the WEA affect hybrid learning?
Weston Public School’s current three-year contract with the WEA was originally negotiated in 2018. The district administration has made three additional Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) with the WEA through the COVID 19 pandemic. The first MOA (09/04/2020) enabled the hybrid model and a safe return to in-person learning on 9/15. The second MOA (10/20/2020) dealt with the changes to elementary schedules, and facilitated hybrid students in grades PK-5 returning safely to school for five days each week. The most recent MOA (01/19/2021) dealt with changes to secondary schedules, and facilitated more real-time remote instruction for all students grades 6-12. Negotiations for additional agreements regarding the expansion of in-person learning, in all schools are ongoing.
- What role does asymptomatic testing of students and staff play?
Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing plays an important monitoring role. It allows us to detect and mitigate the spread of the virus, and isolate infected individuals. We can also identify potential exposures. The more students and staff that test, the better we are able to control the spread, keep schools open, and increase time in school. While not perfect, it is the best tool we currently have. We ask that parents register and schedule their student(s) for weekly COVID-19 tests.
- Do Weston’s neighboring or peer-districts have all of their secondary level students in all at once without any cohorts or alternating remote days?
No. Most of our peer districts provide similar hybrid models to Weston with two or more cohorts. Examples include Belmont, Acton-Boxborough, Concord-Carlisle, Dover-Sherborn, Lexington, Lincoln-Sudbury, Newton, Westwood, Wellesley, and many more. Of our peer districts, only Carlisle has negotiated agreements to bring students grades K-8th in five full days a week. Hanover has recently negotiated similar agreements to bring in all secondary students later this Spring. Weston continues gathering data and looking to adopt best practices being rolled out around the state. Please see Table 1 above for more detailed comparisons.
- Do neighboring or comparable districts have their MS and HS students in school for full days with lunches?
A number of our peer districts are currently serving lunches in schools. Some have extended to full days with lunches for elementary students without doing so for older students. We are looking closely at how lunches are being served in school in Wellesley, Wayland, Dover-Sherborn, Newton, and more. Some districts just recently started serving students lunches in school, allowing extension of in-person learning hours later into the afternoon while maintaining the cohorts with alternating days. Please see Table 2 above for more detailed comparisons.
- What scheduling changes has Weston made to refine and strengthen the hybrid model?
Since opening for hybrid learning last September, Weston’s educators have been steadily improving the hybrid model, including scheduling changes. In October, we safely brought all elementary students in person five days per week. At the same time, WMS and WHS were strengthening their hybrid model, including more synchronous instruction. WMS went on to make big scheduling changes to allow for mixed-cohort live streaming. WHS will also modify its schedule soon to match WMS, and better meet student needs.
- What was the original purpose of the Medical Advisory Board?
The advisory board was focused on assisting WPS in obtaining a testing program and safety protocols to keep schools open safely. That work was in large part accomplished in late 2020 after the district had finalized safety protocols in the Fall, and launched PCR testing for all students and staff in early January 2021. Additional testing from the state continues to be considered.
Section 2. Proposed Changes
- Does Weston have plans to increase in-person learning?
Yes, WPS continues to explore ways to increase in-person learning at all levels.
- Does the district plan to add lunch in schools, in order to extend in person learning time?
We have been looking into lunches in school, and have proposed adding lunch time for all students. Lunches would be eaten outside when weather permits, and in large well-ventilated spaces during inclement weather. Adding lunch would allow extending elementary schedules, and extending secondary schedules well into the afternoons, both of which are included in the proposal. We are committed to working with students and families to accommodate concerns that may result from adding lunch and extending the school day. Final details are subject to change depending on negotiations and public health data.
- Could parent volunteers help monitor lunchtimes?
One important safety measure is to limit the number of people in the building to students and staff only. Adding a rotating cadre of parents to supervise lunches adds risk that, at this point, we are not comfortable with. The district has posted and is actively hiring for paid positions that include lunch-monitoring as part of the role.
- Does the district plan to bring hybrid WMS and WHS students in person on Wednesday?
Yes we plan to bring alternating cohorts of students in-person on Wednesdays, and expect that to begin in early March.