Wu Holds Panel Discussion on Safe and Equitable BPS Reopening

With conversations around reopening schools in the fall, many parents and community members have questions and concerns around what is best for students, but many have stated that the conversation needs to go beyond just safe reopening, and when looking at recovery, equity should also be at the top of the list.

BPS recently released a draft plan for reopening schools in the fall, which consists of a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning, and would have students rotating between the two.

City Councilor Michelle Wu held a panel discussion on July 27, as “there is a need to hear from those most immediately impacted by this reality for schools—our students, families and educators,” she wrote on her Facebook page for the event, which was livestreamed on the social media site.

The panel consisted of Educators for Excellence Executive Director Sarah Iddrissu, Boston Public Schools (BPS) Educator Jose Valenzuela,  BPS Parent and Educator Alicia Wedderburn, and BPS student Miggy Antonio.

Wu said that the conversation was intended to be “about recovery for BPS and not just for reopening. We need our educators involved…students, youth from all backgrounds. As we’re moving towards reopening, it has to be a conversation in partnership.”

She said that over 160 people signed up to be a part of this conversation, which included breakout sessions for the community to brainstorm topics and ideas and discuss concerns.

In a survey to participants when they signed up for the event, people were asked how they felt about the level of communication and conversation that has been had with the community regarding BPS and its plan, with which the “majority of folks said they were not satisfied,” Wu said.

Antonio, who is a rising senior at Boston Latin School, said he does not believe there has been enough conversation around reopening school in the fall, and is grateful for this conversation. He said he believes a safe reopening needs to be “flexible” and easily allow for a transition to online learning “on short notice.”

He also said that more resources will be necessary, as space is an issue within the BPS system and there are not enough classrooms to properly distance all students.

He also said there “needs to be processes to monitor health outcomes as well,” and referenced the plan that BPS recently released regarding reopening, which relies on self-reporting of symptoms from families. Antonio said he “doesn’t think this is sustainable,” and believes that reopening process for schools is being rushed.

“Given the uncertainty, we know so little about the virus,” said Wedderburn, who is also the parent of three BPS students. “Currently, we are not sure if people can get reinfected.” She said that “to take an in-person approach at this point would not be responsible.” 

She added that the mindset in the spring for remote learning was that it would be “temporary,” but knowing what we know now, a more robust online learning plan is needed.

“We need to be shifting this to a full year plan at minimum,” she said.

Returning to “normal,” she added, “from a racial equity standpoint, we can’t go back to that.” She said that some instruction practices prior to the pandemic “were definitely not equitable from a racial standpoint.” She said it’s important that those practices are reexamined and not included moving forward.

She said that if there’s “any benefit to COVID,” it’s “allowing us an opportunity to reimagine education and allowing us an opportunity to really think about particularly racial equity as it relates to our school system that we haven’t really ever addressed in a substantial way.”

Valenzuela, a 12 year teacher who currently reaches at Boston Latin Academy and has a son in BPS, said that he would like to see a phased in approach to reopening schools, beginning with online moving and moving into a hybrid model later on.

“We might be having the wrong conversation as it’s been framed by BPS so far,” he said, adding that the time could be used “to think about a better online learning experience from the jump.”

Sarah Iddrissu said she has a young son, and as a prospective BPS parent, she’s waiting to see if BPS will be her choice for him “and I really want it to be,” adding that she has worked within the BPS system.

She said that parents and teachers were stressed about the remote learning environment this spring, and many issues such as how attendance was taken as well as how to engage students with all learning styles in this fashion.

She said that a return to in-person will create paranoia in students, who would be required to wear masks all day and constantly sanitize. She said this will lead to more school fights and “negative interactions with educators” because of increased anxiety.

“The brain doesn’t open up for learning in fight or flight mode,” she continued, adding that the perception that in person learning is better may not be so true if the environment will be so anxiety-inducing.

Similar to Wedderburn’s point about remote learning feeling “temporary,” as a student, Antonio said it was difficult for him to adjust to the online environment that was thrown at students so quickly. He said it was difficult to hold himself accountable for paying attention and getting his work done, as being at home offers many distractions.

He felt that he and his peers “could goof off and still pass.”

He also spoke about many students who did not have adequate internet connections and BPS should focus more tightly on getting them the resources they need to succeed.

While he believes that “the number one priority” should be saving the lives of students and staff, he also understands the importance of in person learning to many students in the city.

Instances of child abuse have gone up over the past few months, he said, due to children staying home. “School can be an escape, a safe space” for these students. “Kids who absolutely need to go to school should and everyone els should stay home,” Antonio said.

He said that while Boston is “starting to return to a sense of normalcy,” he doesn’t feel that the educational outcomes going into this school year should be the same as last year. “The pandemic’s unprecedented,” he said, and calls for the need to adapt to a new way of doing things rather than “pushing away” the fact that the virus is still here. “This is how it’s going to be for a while.”

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