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Don’t lock Newton students out of their schools -

Don’t lock Newton students out of their schools -

Don’t lock Newton students out of their schools -

Posted: 25 Oct 2020 12:00 AM PDT

 | Newton MA News and Politics Blog

 | Newton MA News and Politics Blog

By David Goldstone, Sarah Arcese, Dr Karen Jacobson, Dr. Stefanos Kales, Raphael Lewis, Bill Manchester, Aileen Murphy, Valerie and Jeffrey Pontiff, Victoria Tentler-Krylov, Kim Thurmond, and George Zhukovsky.  – The authors are all Newton residents with children in the Newton Public Schools.

While every one of our peer high schools is already back in school, Newton's high schools are 100% remote for the foreseeable future.  The School Committee should not sign a proposed contract that could lock our high schoolers out of school, and restrict in-person education for younger students.

In an official survey from Newton in August, 85% of parents selected in-person school.  Massachusetts state guidelines and public health organizations direct districts to prioritize reopening schools for in-person education. Despite consistently low COVID-19 transmission rates in Newton, Newton Public Schools (NPS) has refused to offer the option for in-person high school. NPS has no date, no metric and no plan. The elementary and middle schools also have limited options for "half hybrid" in-person school. Newton should not commit to a contract (Memorandum of Agreement or "MOA") with the teachers' union (Newton Teachers Association or "NTA") that appears to lock our children out of their schools.

After months of delay, NPS punted reopening high schools to a Working Group. NPS invited NTA to participate, but NTA refused. This Working Group just started meeting October 14 and won't have any recommendation until December. If the School Committee wishes to adopt a recommendation, the MOA may enable NTA to veto any plan to reopen the high schools.  Meanwhile, our children are socially isolated from teachers and other students.

These endless iterations are not necessary. Opening the schools is possible now. Our 10 peer districts have all figured out how to open in-person. All 10.

These 10 peer districts are: Acton-Boxboro, Brookline, Concord-Carlisle, Lexington, Natick, Needham, Sharon, Wayland, Wellesley and Weston. This is Newton's own list. (Toby Romer, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education, and Working Group Chair, used this in 2018 to compare Newton's high school day length to peer districts.)  Newton's high schools average 2000 students and the average peer high school has 1500 students. All peer districts have teachers unions. All care about equity. Nine of the ten participate in METCO, just like Newton.

Of these 10 districts, all are back in school. The last one was Brookline, which started transitioning to in person on October 20.

All 10 have a hybrid solution. The solutions are remarkably similar.

  • 7 of the 10 have students in the school at least 2 days every week. The other 3 go in-person alternate weeks.
  • On in-person days, in 7 of the 10 districts are in school all day.
  • On remote days, at least 7 of the 10 have synchronous lessons.

For example, in Brookline, Needham and Wellesley, about 2 days per week, students go to school for the full day. On remote days, students have synchronous lessons. Our peer districts are providing in-person education even when they don't have a new $200 million high school like Newton North. The district-by-district breakdown can be found here.

Newton can give our kids the option to be back in school right now. While this article focuses on the high school situation, younger children and parents need more in-person school with their teachers. Newton should have at least 2 full days per week for these younger grades. Unfortunately, Newton is behind at the elementary and middle schools too.

At the last School Committee meeting on October 19, the School Committee presented this proposed MOA with NTA.

  • The MOA specifically identifies that the high school is in a 100% remote model and does not mention any possibility of in-person education or even reference the Working Group. (p. 4-5)
  • It states that the elementary schoolers (and eventually middle schoolers) will be doing half-hybrid for only 8 hours per week. (p.3-4)
  • The MOA agrees to the current schedules through June 2021, and states that it cannot be modified, except by "mutual agreement" of the NTA. (p.2)

If any change requires NTA's "mutual agreement," the MOA may lock the schools and hand the key to NTA. Given that NTA already adopted a "no confidence" vote on the Superintendent, and is boycotting the NPS Working Group, why is the School Committee giving the key to unlock the schools to the NTA?

The School Committee is planning to vote on this problematic MOA at their next meeting on November 2. Newton should not commit to this contract now. All of our peer districts are already back in school. What is Newton waiting for? 

If you want to get involved, send an email to [email protected]


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