Some remote instruction to continue alongside in-person

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'We’re excited about the prospect of having kids back in school.'
-- Principal Matthew Janger

Five-day-a-week on-campus instruction at Arlington High School will be back in early May, it was announced at the School Committee meeting on Thursday, April 8. 

Seniors will come back May 6. On May 7, freshmen, students completely new to Arlington Public Schools and any other high-school students who have never previously attended full time on campus will phase in. And then on May 10, sophomores and juniors are to return.

On a motion by committee member Liz Exton, the committee voted, 7-0, to set Wednesday, May 5, as a professional-development day, during which staff will be on campus completing the return plan, and students will have the day off from instruction.

“We’re excited about the prospect of having kids back in school,” Principal Matthew Janger said. “Come on back – we can make this work.”

He cited federal and state approval for three feet between desks, low levels of Covid-19 transmission in town, well-functioning ventilation in classrooms and an overwhelming number of staff members were vaccinated. Mask-wearing and all other current health-and-safety practices are to be maintained and enforced.

4 lunch periods

Janger said that, with the campus continuing to undergo a comprehensive rebuilding process, it has been a “Tetris model,” referring to the 1984 video game, or “a very tight squeeze” to accommodate everyone safely while adhering to pandemic protocols, including one-way traffic patterns in the hallways and stairwells.

The daily schedule includes four lunch periods –11:31 a.m., 12:01 p.m., 12:31 p.m. and 1:01 p.m. – because, with students needing to go maskless to eat, the distance between them must be six feet at that time. Lunch will take place in the cafeteria, Blue Gym, courtyard and elsewhere, with tents and heaters provided, as necessary.

Five-day-a-week on-campus instruction will completely replace the current hybrid system, in which students now come to the high school for a single course each week or two. Students who wish to attend school completely remotely may do so until the semester ends; that date currently is projected to be June 24.

Except for some physical-education classes, on-campus students will have the same courses and teachers as during hybrid; remote students will “attend” class virtually with them at the same time. Janger said that teachers will have the needed hardware and software to accomplish this admittedly challenging practice, including microphones if they wish to amplify their voices.

80% of teachers agree

The teachers were recently polled, with 80 percent agreeing to simultaneously instructing remotely plus traditionally, according to Superintendent Kathleen Bodie. The only other alternative, according to Janger and Bodie, would have required major changes in courses with only seven weeks left in the school year.

Some teachers “are not thrilled with this agreement,” committee member Len Kardon said. However, fellow committee member Jeff Thielman said that “an 80-percent vote is a good sign.”

Speaking for the teachers’ union, Arlington Education Association representative Jenna Fernandes acknowledged that “this is a year of not-ideal situations,” and that “I wouldn’t say it is OK, but it is not a large concern.”

If at any point any on-campus student tests positive for the virus, that student and all of that student’s classmates will revert to remote instruction temporarily, Janger said.

Read the memo detail the AHS full return >> 

Arlington’s pandemic category for the past several months is “substantial transmission,” noted committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, a medical doctor, saying that the town’s rate could possibly cross the threshold into “high transmission” at some point. 

Bodie earlier in the meeting said that ongoing weekly pool testing of on-campus hybrid-system students as of mid-March found nine pools positive out of a total of 2,150 pools. Pool-testing participation in grades K-5 averages about 90 percent. Responding to a committee inquiry as to whether pool testing could be required universally, she said that “It may be wiser to continue our efforts to encourage our parents” to voluntarily allow their children to take part.

Summer programming in the works for some 

Some instruction is planned in summer after the end of June. Special Education Director Alison Elmer said that extended-school-year programming – classes for special-education students – will run July 12 through Aug. 19, from 9 a.m. to noon, and primarily Monday through Thursday. According to guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the purpose of this program is to prevent “substantial regression” of learning and to “assist in recoupment of skills” as described in each student’s Individual Education Plan.

Summer school is also to be offered for economically disadvantaged students, focusing on support for math and reading, and operating Tuesday through Thursday on a half-day basis for five weeks.

Officials also hope to provide classes for English-language learners, but it may be difficult to attract enough staffers regardless of the pay offered, said Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. “We will think outside the box,” he said. “It’s not a salary thing – it really isn’t. If people are burned out, they’re burned out.”

Committee members during a lengthy discussion threw out suggestions that they hoped would help, ranging from dramatically increasing the pay offered, to partnering with other districts, to splitting the workload such that no one person teaches for more than three weeks in summer, to ensuring that some future teacher contracts run for 11 months, thus including summer duty.

See the documents detailing the survey >>

In other business

  • The high school is going to reinstate the beginning Italian-language course in fall and hopes to attract at least 20 freshmen to it. Janger said that those who wish to take Italian I should reach out as soon as possible to ensure that the class will have enough students.
  • Color schemes have been selected for the high school’s new buildings, Bodie said, with neutrals for most surfaces, including beiges and grays, and with accent colors in brighter tones, such as various shades of blue, as well as warmer tones, including maroon. “It will be quite lovely,” she said, with the overall effect “very elegant” and “much more subdued” than the brighter look of the relatively recently built Thompson Elementary School in East Arlington.
  • Bodie noted that individual student athletes were recently recognized in The Boston Globe and Boston Herald in girls' alpine skiing, girls' basketball and hockey.
  • The committee voted, 5 to 2, against a proposal requiring committee agendas to include increased summary of attached documentation and setting a longer lead time for submitting agenda items. Paul Schlichtman and Bill Hayner voted for the plan.
  • The committee unanimously adopted a detailed written policy on physical restraint of students. It states in part that physical restraint is “an emergency procedure of last resort and is prohibited in the district’s programs except when a student's behavior poses a threat of assault, or imminent, serious, physical harm to self or others and the student is not responsive to verbal directives or other lawful and less intrusive behavior interventions, or such interventions are deemed to be inappropriate under the circumstances.”
  • MacNeal presented key findings from a survey on students’ and employees’ perceptions of their safety, happiness and purpose within the school environment. Percentages responding positively generally ranged from the high 60s to the high 90s.
  • Committee members praised and thanked Jane Morgan for her service as chair of the committee over the past year. A new chair is chosen following the town election, which is April 10. The reorganization meeting is set for Monday, April 12.

This news summary by YourArlington freelance journalist Judith Pfeffer was published Saturday, Saturday, April 9, 2021.