Concord schools will be fully remote in fall

  • Rundlett Middle School hallway.

Monitor staff
Published: 8/7/2020 6:58:13 AM

The Concord School District will be fully remote when school starts in the fall, board members determined in a special meeting that lasted into early Friday.

The plan includes virtual learning for students and weekly administrator check-in meetings to evaluate the pandemic situation and to decide whether a return to in-person learning is possible.

In a five-hour Concord School Board special meeting Thursday night, the board listened to public comment and discussed the options. At 12:05 a.m. on Friday, the board voted unanimously in favor of the remote model, opting not to choose the hybrid model that had been recommended by interim superintendent Kathleen Murphy. 

“I am not comfortable as a human being…having my name attached to anything that puts people at risk,” said board member Barb Higgins. “I don’t feel that we’re ready. I feel there are too many unanswered questions.”

The remote-only model would be similar to the one used last spring, though Murphy said school days would be more planned out with more live instruction and closer monitoring of student participation and attendance.

The hybrid model, which the board did not choose, would have divided students into two groups that attended school on alternating days, learning remotely on the days they weren’t in school.

Most board members were in agreement that they weren’t comfortable bringing students and teachers back into the school buildings in large groups that could put them and their families at risk of COVID-19.

Board members Gina Cannon, Tom Croteau, Chuck Crush, Liza Poinier and Danielle Smith joined Higgins in speaking out strongly in favor of remote learning.

“I think we have no business going back into the schools right now. We don’t know enough,” said Cannon. “I think we will see a spike when all the kids come back. I think the hybrid has too many complexities.”

Board members David Parker and Jim Richards said they wouldn’t mind a hybrid model.

“I favor the hybrid model because it does give those people who want to be fully remote, it gives them that option, and for the people who want to have a little flexibility,” Richards said. He and Parker ultimately joined with the others in voting for remote learning.

Still, board members had misgivings about the remote model too, and board president Jennifer Patterson brought up concerns about maintaining equity in learning when things like home environments and internet access vary from student to student.

“I’m worried that choice might exacerbate inequalities in our district in a way we really try not to have,” Patterson said.

The district administration and the board will continue to have discussions about exceptions to the remote learning model that may be made in the cases of very young students in pre-K and kindergarten who need socialization, students on IEPs who need accommodations and students in the CRTC program who do hands-on learning. These students might be permitted to learn in the school buildings.

Additionally, exceptions might be made in the case of students who cannot be left home alone but whose parents need to work. There was discussion at the meeting of those students being permitted to do their remote classwork in a school building during the day, supervised by a school employee.

“We do need to have provisions in place so it is an equitable playing field for students who need additional services, for students whose parents have to go to work. Even if they are just in the building learning remotely,” Crush said.

At the same meeting, the board also voted unanimously to modify the school year calendar to begin classes on Sept. 8 instead of Sept. 1, to allow teachers more time to prepare the curriculum. 

The board also unanimously passed a motion to require everyone who is in a school building to wear a mask unless they are unable to do so due to a medical reason, and another motion to require six-foot distancing in school buildings.

Over 285 members of the public signed in to Microsoft Teams to view the meeting, with even more tuning in to the ConcordTV livestream. There was a lengthy public comment period where parents and students shared their fears about returning to school during a pandemic, their desires to be back in the classroom and their concerns about maintaining equity within the district.

At least four members of the public brought up the topic of racial inequities in the Concord School District and the fact that Black and brown communities have statistically been hit harder by COVID-19 nationwide.

“I haven't heard anything about the anti-racism that we’ve all been talking about earlier included in the reopening plan, especially when we know that Black and brown populations are going to be disproportionately affected, shouldn’t the reopening also have that tailored in?” said Martin Toe, a 2014 graduate of Concord High School.

The board had been planning to address racial inequality at the Aug. 3 board meeting, which did not take place due to technical issues.

A few weeks ago, a group of alumni from the Concord School District created a petition that included a list of eight demands, including for the district to make a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, something board member Jim Richards did independently of the other board members at Thursday’s meeting.

“I do want to say to those people who talked to us tonight that as far as I’m concerned, my personal thing, Black lives matter,” Richards said. 

The board said it will discuss the ways it is responding to racial inequalities in the school district at the regular August school board meeting, which will be rescheduled.

The board meeting adjourned at 12:07 a.m. Friday.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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