Letter to the Editor: Keep Bedford Schools Safe – Another Open Letter to the Bedford School Committee and Superintendent Conrad

Submitted by Holly Munsie, Jeff Munsie, Lisa Kaushik, Sarah Allen, Kevin Dickert, 
Astrid Kruse and Jay Muelhoefer

This letter is in response to the earlier Letter to the Editor from the Bring Bedford Back Safely group advocating for “a plan to maximize in-person learning, with an ultimate goal to resume full-time in-person learning as soon as possible.”  While we also wish we could resume full-time in-person learning, and sympathize with the struggles these families are having, we want to add to the conversation by voicing different opinions on priorities and timing.  We also want to recognize that we all have voiced a common goal of safety and are in agreement that is number one.

The safety of our children, teachers, and families is our top priority. We too value in-person learning, but we would only be in favor of in-person learning models that maintain appropriate safety measures. Specifically, safety measures must include student and teacher spacing of 6 feet or more until the scientists at the CDC say social distancing with people outside your household is no longer necessary.
We feel that the current hybrid model is working for many students, although we recognize it is not working for all. The hybrid model is providing vitally important in-person learning with appropriate safety measures. COVID-19 infections are currently increasing in our area, and the safety measures we have in place at our schools are critical. Any movement to increase the amount of in-person learning at the Bedford Public Schools must maintain the 6-foot spacing or many of us will feel forced to switch to all-remote, which is not what we want for our children.

During the initial exploration of full-time in-person learning over the summer, the schools determined that that model was not possible while maintaining 6-foot spacing between students and teachers. In the letter written by the Bring Bedford Back Safely group, they ask for full-time in-person learning but do not address how they propose to overcome this obstacle. We want to request that if the school district explores possibilities for full-time in-person learning, they maintain the 6-foot spacing between students and teachers, as we all have a common goal of keeping our students and teachers safe.

We feel that it is not the right time now to spend a lot of effort and resources on a full-time in-person plan across all grades. There has been an increasing number of COVID-19 infections in our schools, our town, the state of Massachusetts, and the country as a whole. In fact, Bedford High School almost had to go all-remote this week.  We should be spending our time strengthening our all-remote plans in case our school system needs to switch to that model, and increasing our vigilance and focus on safety in the current hybrid model. We now know from new CDC definitions of close contacts that even brief encounters that add up over the course of the day can lead to the transmission of COVID-19. If students are consistently less than 6 feet apart in school, this will lead to an increased number of students and teachers who will need to quarantine when a member of the school community has COVID-19, which will reduce in-person learning beyond current levels and present additional challenges for families.

We want to recognize that the hybrid model is working well for many students, and is a vast improvement from the model last spring. While there have been challenges, our kids are getting used to their new routine. Our kids are successfully learning new concepts. They are learning to be more independent on remote days. They look forward to seeing their classmates and teachers in a safe format on in-person days. This model is giving increased in-person instruction for the kids who need it most in cohort C. There are many positive aspects to this model.

We also recognize that hybrid has been challenging for other students, especially younger students. We would recommend collecting feedback from families and teachers so that the groups of students having trouble with the hybrid model can be identified and adjustments can be made. If in-person learning can be increased for some students, it should be prioritized for the highest risk students who are struggling with hybrid the most. This may be students who have learning disabilities, are food insecure, have home concerns, or are our youngest learners. Perhaps different approaches that increase in-person learning for these groups could be developed.

In summary, we want to emphasize that our families want to keep a school model that provides some in-person schooling for as many students as possible. We believe for most students that model is our current hybrid model with the choice of remote for families who want it. Switching models to a full-time in-person model where students and teachers are spaced less than 6 feet apart would be unsafe and drive many of us to switch to all-remote. We would like any exploration of future full-time in-person models to maintain that 6-foot spacing until the CDC drops that recommendation. Thank you to the teachers, administration, committee members, and volunteers who have been working so hard to implement the current hybrid/remote model for our schools.

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