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Teachers May Conduct Remote Learning from Empty Classrooms

According to the evolving plan in Framingham, Mass., the city's public schools will begin remotely and will eventually shift to a mix of in-person and remote learning when it is deemed safe.

by Zane Razzaq, MetroWest Daily News / August 6, 2020
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(TNS) — Come fall, teachers could live-stream instruction to students from empty classrooms.

On a 6 to 3 vote, the School Committee on Wednesday decided to submit the district's back-to-school plan to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. According to the evolving plan, the public schools in Framingham, Mass., will begin remotely and will eventually shift to a mix of in-person and remote learning when it is deemed safe.

Chairman Adam Freudberg, Beverly Hugo, Scott Wadland, Priscila Sousa, Karen Dempsey, and Jessica Barnhill backed the plan, while Vice Chairwoman Tiffanie Maskell, Geoffrey Epstein, and William LaBarge rejected it.

The district's ask that teachers conduct distance learning from physical classrooms as students remain home in the fall was under a spotlight.

Framingham school officials want teachers in school buildings so they can access superior technology, classroom materials, and colleagues for face-to-face collaboration. They also believe it would help kids focus if a teacher live-streams lessons from the backdrop of a classroom rather than their house, said Woodrow Wilson Elementary School Principal Purnima DeMorais.

"We have experienced this firsthand, with the doorbell ringing, technology issues, a child crying, animal distractions, and so forth. We're not asking teachers to come in to school to feel normal, we're asking staff to come in to meet the needs of children which are not being met in a virtual teaching environment," said DeMorais.

The district is currently in negotiations with the teachers union.

Accommodations can be made to ensure teachers who share classrooms are not live-teaching in the space at the same time, said Anne Ludes, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education. Superintendent Robert Tremblay said exemptions will be allowed, such as if a teacher is immunocompromised.

But teachers who spoke during public comment said their classrooms feel abnormal without student presence and students would not benefit from seeing them teach there.

When she recently visited Walsh Middle School, Sarah Guernsey said she "burst into tears when [she] walked into what used to be [her] classroom." The room had been cleared of posters, bookshelves, teacher desks, and other aspects that make up a classroom.

"Last spring, my students and I joked that they are the only students I've ever taught who know my family room is purple, my guest room is yellow, and the two prints hanging in my dining room are from my trip to Alaska...I'm not sure what is added by having students see the white board in an empty classroom instead of my purple walls," said Guernsey.

The requirement will also pose health problems, said Framingham Teachers Association President Christine Mulroney, saying buildings will need to be upgraded to meet COVID-19 standards.

Opposing the plan, Maskell said she wished teachers were able to choose where they work.

"The truth is I feel teachers should be able to decide. Teachers are adults. If teachers have distractions, dogs, whatever, then maybe they do prefer to come into the building. But not everyone feels that way and I think they should have that option," said Maskell.

As Massachusetts moves through its reopening phases, Barnhill, who is also a Natick teacher, said it is "reasonable to expect that we have to go back to work and teachers, we have to show up."

"You can go get your haircut but we're not showing up for our highest need students," said Barnhill.

The Department of Public Health on Tuesday reported 438 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts — the highest single-day increase in two months. Of the 15,316 people tested, 2.8% were positive for the coronavirus, above the 2.2% seven-day weighted average, which has crept up from a low of 1.7% in mid-July.

In other business, the School Committee also voted to approve the 2020-21 school calendar. The school year will begin remotely on Sept. 16, as of now. Before then, teachers and other staff members will receive 10 days of training to prepare for remote learning.

Last Wednesday, the committee voted to endorse a completely remote start to the year, with an eventual hybrid approach.

Districts have to plan for three models of instruction -- in-person, remote, and hybrid -- for submission to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Final plans are due by Monday.

Preliminary plans were submitted last Friday. Families reserve the right to have their children remain 100% remote.

©2020 MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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