'Hybrid' model seems most likely for BPS re-opening in fall

Brenda Cassellius: 'Hybrid' model one of three in 'working plan' due on Friday.

What can parents, students, and teachers expect when Boston Public Schools “return” in the fall? Completely remote, totally in-school, or a “hybrid” of those two approaches? The school department has until Friday (July 31) to submit its plan to state officials and a combined model looks to be the most likely path forward.

“Right now, we are looking at a hybrid model that would assign students into groups and bring them into schools on a rotating basis,” Mayor Walsh said during a press conference on Tuesday while stressing that the plan remains in “draft” form.

“That’s what we’re looking at today, but no matter what model is chosen, BPS has fully developed a plan for all remote as well if the cases go up before Sept. 10 or after that.”

BPS superintendent Brenda Cassellius outlined the working plan last week during a School Committee meeting that lasted nearly six hours. She said that BPS has heard from about 30 percent of families and 55 percent of staff who offered input through an online survey.

“We’ve looked at the feedback we’ve received and many parents want their children back in school in some sort of capacity,” she said. “We are going to continue to watch the virus and how this spread is happening and that will continue to inform what the decisions are moving forward. Everyone is very anxious to have our children back but we certainly don’t want to open our doors unless we know that we can do it safely.”

Tammy Pust, senior adviser to Cassellius, said that if students are brought back into schools in any capacity in September, only one student would be allowed per row on any bus, food service would be held in the classrooms, schools would follow strict cleaning and sanitizing protocols and develop guidelines for how to respond when a student or staff member has an illness that needs to be evaluated.

“It’s not really possible for us to open and have all of our students in our buildings on day one, because we can only put 50 percent of students on our buses,” said Pust.

The hybrid model seemed to be most popular among School Committee members, which would mean separating students into two groups, with each group in classrooms two days a week, and the buildings closed on a fifth day for deep cleaning.

At-Large City Councillor Annissa Essaibi-George, a former BPS teacher, said the combination model is the most likely outcome. “I think we all kind of recognize that there might come a time that we will potentially go remote again depending on what the next couple of months look like with COVID-19,” Essaibi-George told the Reporter on Tuesday.

In a statement to the newspaper, Councillor Andrea Campbell said, “My number one priority is the safety of our children, our families, and our educators. With September around the corner, our students, families, teachers, and staff need more specifics. Given the national COVID-19 landscape and many unanswered questions, I am deeply concerned about fully reopening in the Fall.”

Essaibi-George also shared worries about the state of community input into BPS’s reopening plans in a letter addressed to Cassellius and the School Committee last week.

“As we approach the coming school year, I would like to raise a number of major areas of concern for our school district. I recognize the tremendous effort taken to prepare for next year, but the BPS community is still frustrated about the lack of communication, transparency, and opportunities for real input into our reopening plan beyond these late in the summer listening sessions,” she wrote.