School Committee Requests Building Capacity Data, Hoping for a Full Return to School in September

December 2, 2020

Members of the School Committee on Tuesday emphatically requested data on buildings’ capacity that they hope will ensure a full return to school in September for at least some students, even if conditions still require continuing the current hybrid model.

“I would like to see more information on capacity,” stated committee Chair Dan Brosgol. “I want to see every available space utilized in the fall, no matter what. And I want to see how much it costs.”

Committee member Brad Morrison agreed. “There is something we can get started on right now: an assessment of our true space capacity for students. I think we need to know: if it’s a matter of space, then how much space? If it’s a matter of money, then how much money? I would like to know how far we are away from bringing all students back.”

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad said he will gather the information requested.

Last month the School Committee voted to absorb the entire kindergarten, as well as almost 150 students with moderate special learning needs – the so-called Cohort C — into a four-day weekly in-person schedule as soon as possible.

Tuesday Conrad told the committee that “a lot of different moving parts” are being addressed to make those changes work.  The focus on adding the special-needs cohort to all four buildings is acute at Lane School because additional classrooms will be needed. Similarly, Davis School Principal Beth Benoit is addressing the additional classrooms needed for the additional kindergarteners, he said.

“We are in the process of making sure we put in the requests to hire and what we need for supplies and furniture, what we need to do to move things around and change assignments,” the superintendent continued. “People jumped right into it to make sure we have everything going as quickly as possible.”

Conrad said, “there’s a lot of surveying that will be done.” One of the first is of the Cohort C families to see how many actually want their children to return to the buildings from their current full remote learning. Communication with parents will follow the pattern established last summer, he said: general information, followed by details specific to the respective buildings, “so people know what’s happening and the rationale behind it.”

Brosgol applauded Conrad’s thought about a phased return for Cohort C, beginning with older students. He also wondered whether there will be a bump resulting from the return of some children whose families have opted for private schools this year. School Committee member Joann Santiago also asked Conrad to try to determine if there will be a “bumper crop of kindergarteners” in September, stemming from families who didn’t send children this year.

Conrad said he is staying in close contact with Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter and the Board of Health to learn “what they are hearing about the vaccination timeline and how that might impact reopening,” as well as what they are learning from state officials.

The superintendent said that over the next two weeks, school leaders will be meeting with the state education commissioner and his medical advisors. He added that he also met regularly with parents at Hanscom Air Force Base, and “medical personnel there are already talking about their expectations for vaccine rollout for active-duty military.”

“I think if we can gather a number of these data points, we’ll get a sense of what it looks like,” Conrad said, and the specific question is: “What is the threshold of adult vaccination that makes us feel we have protected our adults.”

Meanwhile, Brosgol also stayed focused on September 2021. “We should be trying to figure out a way to do a little better with space. That could include using space that’s not being used for classrooms.”

“I think we actually desperately need this information for our conversations about 2021-22,” said Brosgol, who emphasized that he wants elementary grades to get priority “in whatever buildings we need. Then older kids can adapt.”

Last month the superintendent presented a scenario for immediately converting the hybrid model to four-day in-person for first and second grades, requiring several additional teachers and assistants and some physical changes. The committee on Tuesday did not address that early return scenario.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763
Click this link to learn more about The Bedford Citizen’s first community reporter.

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