Wayland School Committee Updates April 11

The School Committee and administration are planning next steps in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

THE REST OF THE SCHOOL YEAR

The School Committee met Tuesday April 7 on Zoom. Regarding changes driven by the COVID-19 outbreak school closure, Superintendent Arthur Unobskey noted that the School Committee has final authority on when the school district finishes the academic year. The Administrative Council and the Wayland Teachers Association have been working on a Memorandum of Agreement which covers the remote learning period caused by COVID-19 which the Committee would be discussing in executive session.

Wayland Schools closed March 13 with a planned return extended to May 4. Extracurricular activities were cancelled for the duration.

Schools do not have to make up days cancelled due to the emergency, beyond the previously set aside five snow days. The state is not requiring any school to go beyond its previously scheduled 185th day of the school year, although each school district could decide to go longer.

Gov. Charlie Baker had said that no school district needs to stay in school past its originally scheduled fifth snow day, which is June 24 in Wayland, so it is expected students will have fewer than 180 school days this year.

School Committee members discussion revolved around the 182.5 school days in the teacher’s contract and whether to use the April spring break days to teach or to keep as vacation days when there may or may not be a chance to finish out the school year at school. The aim was to avoid fragmenting the learning process more than necessary and strive for normality for students and in classroom teaching at the end of the school year.  The question of whether there was even time to get approval from WTA was raised.

In the end, the Committee decided the District will proceed with its regular scheduled vacation day, April 10, and will have April vacation from April 20-24. Teachers would also get some down time from the intense effort of learning and creating teaching methodologies that translated from the classroom to remote learning in the middle of the semester on top of the general stress of the health crisis.

REMOTE LEARNING PLAN

Chromebooks, computers and chargers were sent home with students in grades 3-12. A plan for remote learning and how to provide technology support for families without access had to be devised. During the first phase of this closure from March 12 to April 6, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), envisioned a three-week closure. Gov. Baker and the State Commissioner of Education decreed that students would not be tasked with new required curriculum or content during these three weeks.

Instead, the focus would be on helping students review and practice existing knowledge and skills, or on providing optional curricular enrichment. There would be teacher feedback but no grading until a plan was devised for the timing of the grade book and evaluation complexities at different age levels, especially problematic for juniors and graduating seniors.

For students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, or students who receive English Language Services, since the first three weeks did not count as typical school days, the services and supports associated with an IEP or 504 plan per guidance from the MA DESE were suspended. The U.S. Department of Education later provided guidance that in these exceptional circumstances, special education services would be provided differently than when school is fully operational and would be consistent with the safety and health of students and educators.

See below for an explanation of the requirements for IEP and 504 plans:
https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/504-plan/the-difference-between-ieps-and-504-plans

The redesigned curricula evolved into the Wayland Remote Learning, Phase 1: March 19-April 7. Once it became clear that Gov. Baker would keep schools closed until May 4, the state gave school districts leeway to move curricula forward at a deliberate pace, acknowledging the challenges in this remote learning environment.

The Administrative Leadership team (principals, assistant principals, along with Central Office administrators) and the teaching staff have been meeting daily. They developed the Wayland Remote Learning Model, Phase 2: April 13-May 4. The administration and Committee acknowledged that a longer closure is possible and have designed the updated plan to provide the framework for student learning beyond the current May 4 date.

On April 8 and 9, teachers were given time to prepare for implementation of Phase 2 in remote learning beginning on April 13​. To review the Remote Learning Model, Phase 2 see: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mBytN1j8Wk5hE5SCOWrNGGGCVTICsj64DcgdSSIcemc/edit

“Examples of remote learning tools include large-group video or audio conference calls, 1:1 phone or video calls, email, work packets, projects, reading lists, online learning platforms, and other resources to effectively engage with students. These tools could be used to deliver lessons, provide individual student support, provide resources (including instructional material and student assignments), connect students to each other and the teacher, and provide feedback on student work. DESE recommended that schools support students to engage in meaningful and productive learning for approximately half the length of a regular school day.” see page 4 of file: https://www.wayland.k12.ma.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server_1036352/File/2020%20Novel%20Coronavirus%20(COVID-19)%20Updates/Superintendent%20Communications/On%20the%20Desktop%203%2026%2020%20Remote%20Learning%20Recommendations.pdf

The webpage link to the Wayland Public School Updates During the Closure: https://www.wayland.k12.ma.us/cms/One.aspx?portalId=1036435&pageId=48416911

SCHOOL LUNCHES

The School Committee thanked Food Services Director Cheryl Judd and her staff for preparing breakfasts and lunches to hand off to METCO Director Tony Laing and bus driver Eileen Dickson for delivery to families qualifying for free or reduced price meals. The custodial staff who disinfected and cleaned the buildings were acknowledged with thanks.

AMENDING THE BUS CONTRACT

The Wayland Schools bus transportation contract also needs to be amended since First Student, Inc., which provides the bus services, ceased operations for the Town with the school closure.

Wayland Public Schools Director of Finance and Operations Susan Bottan reported on consulting other school districts, Department of Education officials, First Student Inc.,and Town Counsel about whether to suspend or withhold partial payment for school bus contracted time.

Bottan said Massachusetts general law is clear about not paying for undelivered services and she was advised that setting a precedent should be avoided. Districts that provide in-house buses said that they were spending 30-50% of their normal budget.

Prior to the outbreak it was already difficult to hire bus drivers and thus she was concerned about driver availability when schools reopened. Gov. Baker included bus drivers as part of the stimulus package so they will be receiving unemployment. The State, Department of Education and First Student are still in discussions as to what the fixed costs ceiling to be paid should be.

Other looming financial impacts of the school closure will be discussed at the next meeting, tentatively scheduled for April 15.

MCAS TEST REQUIREMENTS WAIVED

On April 10 the Governor signed into law an additional COVID-19 Muni Bill. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is required to waive the MCAS test requirements and permitted to recommend to modify or waive high school graduation competency requirements as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19. The bill is summarized here: https://www.mass.gov/doc/an-act-to-further-address-challenges-faced-by-municipalities-school-districts-and-state/download

— Carole Plumb

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