Northampton School Committee approves tweaked hybrid plan

  • Bridge Street School parents wait outside the Northampton elementary for the dismissal of students shortly after noon on Friday, March 13, 2020, at the end of a previously scheduled half day. Superintendent John Provost announced Friday that Northampton Public Schools would be closed to students from March 14 to March 28.

Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2020 8:27:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Denise McKahn, a parent of two students in the city’s schools, asked the School Committee at its meeting Monday night to pick a hybrid plan for primary students and stick with it.

“This process is ripping our community apart. What you have witnessed tonight is a fracturing in our community,” she said during public comment. “There’s absolutely no optimal solution. I study mathematically optimal solutions. I’m not kidding.”

McKahn was one of many who commented at the School Committee’s special meeting called to consider changing the hybrid learning plans for kindergarten through fifth grade. In the end, the committee voted 6-4 to use a hybrid plan where students have two full days of in-person learning each week. They had previously planned to start the hybrid plan this month.

The committee voted last month to move to a hybrid learning model where students would have two days of in-person instruction each week. Families that want to stick to fully remote instruction are able to do so, and feedback showed that the original hybrid plan “didn’t provide enough for the remote learners,” Superintendent John Provost said Monday evening. “We’ve done a lot of work on the original plan that was put forth.”

The revised plan would give students who opt to be fully remote 12 hours of direct instruction time with teachers each week and students who opt for in-person instruction 23 hours, according to information about both plans presented at the meeting and posted online at www.bit.ly/npshybridplan.

At the same time, the Northampton Association of School Employees — the union that represents teachers, education support professionals, and others who work in the schools — proposed a new hybrid plan where those who opt for hybrid learning will have two half-days in-person each week.

Their plan would send students who opt into in-person learning to school twice a week from morning until lunch. In-person students would receive 10 hours of direct teaching time, and remote students would receive 7 hours, according to the association’s proposal.

“This plan allows the equitable delivery of instruction no matter which plan their families need to choose for their health and well-being,” Andrea Egitto, president of the teachers union, said at Monday’s meeting. “It keeps staff members safe from needing to supervise unmasked periods indoors when students are eating.” In the half-day model, students would take their lunches and eat at home.

Public comment

After the two plans were presented, many people weighed in during a public comment session.

Justin Stratton, a parent, liked the half-day plan because he thought it was better for students who are fully remote. “What I care most about is equity,” he said. “We have to keep our son home as a necessity, not a choice. It’s not a choice because it could kill someone in my family if he brings it (COVID-19) home.” He added, “I like the fact that it’s backed by the teachers.”

Kieran Slattery, a fifth grade teacher at Jackson Street School, also spoke in favor of the half-day plan. “Half-day schedules also eliminate unsafe lunch periods as students would eat at home,” he said. “Have any of you actually ever stepped foot in a school during an elementary lunch time? Are you really asking us to ask a group of children to not talk while eating their lunch?”

Rachel Baker, a parent of a kindergartner, advocated for the half-day plan and encouraged the committee to listen to the teachers union. “Those same teachers that everybody is wanting to send their kid back to, those are the people we should trust,” Baker said.

Elizabeth Boughan, who teaches at Leeds Elementary School, said her second grade son used to love school but now remote learning is not working for him, and she knows there are other students who are also struggling.

“After six years without a significant temper tantrum, he now has inconsolable tantrums multiple times a week. Sometimes multiple times a day. This is a completely untenable situation for my family,” she said.

“We have been expected to have empathy and sacrifice for people who want to stay remote,” Boughan said. “But no reciprocal empathy has been offered. It’s much harder for families who are facing mental health crises and educational challenges to have the vulnerability to open up in these public meetings, since sharing these struggles carries a significant stigma.” She asked the School Committee to go ahead with the plan they approved last month to offer two full days of in-person instruction each week.

Saharra Pensivy said she felt “duped” that revisions to the original plans were on the table. Though she said she’s immunocompromised, she would send her child back into school. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take for her mental health. She’s 6 years old and she can’t read and she’s severely struggling … My child needs to be in school with a teacher,” Pensivy said.

Kate Kelly, a school nurse at Leeds Elementary and parent of a second grader, supported the two-day model. “We now know that masking, hand-washing and distancing work. The current hybrid model addresses all of this,” Kelly said.

After public comment, School Committee member Lonnie Kaufman made a motion to approve the board’s revised hybrid plan.

Member Roni Gold then said he supported the union’s hybrid plan that includes two half-days of in-person class each week.

“My vote for the half-day plan is fully anchored in the academic, social-emotional needs of students,” Gold said, adding that he knows it would be a “tremendous challenge” for caregivers’ schedules.

Member Laura Fallon expressed concern about extra busing costs associated with the half-day plan — Camie Lamica, the district’s business administrator, estimated at the meeting that the half-day plan would cost more than $50,000 in additional busing costs. Though, Fallon said, “I don’t want people to think that because we vote one way or another that their voices weren’t heard. This is not an easy decision.”

Kaufman’s motion to use the committee’s revised plan for two days of in-person learning for most students passed narrowly. Mayor David Narkewicz, Rebecca Busansky, Fallon, Sean Condon, Kaufman and Kaia Goleman voted “yes.” Gold, Dina Levi, Emily Serafy-Cox and Susan Voss voted “no.”

This story has been updated.




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