Editor, Townsman:

Thank you to the teachers, administration, School Committee members and volunteers for the hard work and many hours it’s taken to safely enable some form of in-person learning this fall for Andover Public School students. The intent of this letter is to share the dialogue that many concerned parents have had with various members of the school administration and with School Committee members.

There is a growing group of Andover families that find the current hybrid model unworkable despite everyone’s best efforts. Further, experts are publicly calling for children to be back in school buildings as soon as possible.

As such, we are urging the collective decision makers of the Andover Public School district to truly prioritize a plan to safely enable a return to full in-person learning for our students.

To date, the district’s efforts have been focused on a hybrid model and offering a remote learning option to all families who chose it. To be clear, we are not suggesting that all children be forced back into school by removing the remote option, nor are we suggesting that the health risks of COVID-19 be ignored. But we are acknowledging that many children and families in our community are struggling.

We see towns throughout the state and New England prioritizing in-person learning for the youngest learners and those who require additional in-person services; and some of the country’s largest school districts have already begun to phase in children for full-time in-person learning.

However, here in our own town, Andover Public School parents have continually been told that the district does not intend to move beyond the current hybrid model “until there is a vaccine.”

As taxpaying residents of Andover, we urge the district to go back to the drawing board, as many other districts have done, and make a good faith effort to phase in more in-person learning, starting with our youngest learners.

Andover schools have been in session using the hybrid model for almost 11 weeks; although there have been a handful of cases, there have been no major outbreaks or widespread transmission documented within schools. This is consistent with the local and national data, which finds school buildings are not primary spreaders of the virus; Gov. Charlie Baker and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have also recently echoed these findings.

While the impact of COVID-19 is not to be ignored, pediatricians locally and nationally are concerned by the corollary impacts that school closures are having on children’s mental and physical health, safety and long-term development. Indeed, pediatricians and mental health professionals in our own community echo these concerns.

We all agree that our teachers are doing their absolute best work, but our children need more.

Thus far, we have not seen sufficient progress regarding the development of a plan, or transparency around what factors will go into the decision to enable more in-person learning. Collectively, we are left with more questions than answers and are respectfully requesting that the School Committee and school administration pursue the following:

> Develop a plan to maximize in-person learning, with an ultimate goal to resume full-time in-person learning as soon as possible.

> Fully explore options that make the current DESE guidelines more workable, i.e., a bus waiver, adherence to a 3 to 6 feet guideline, use of extra space, etc.

> Provide full transparency regarding what data, metrics, guidance, etc., will be considered in the decision-making process to enable more in-person learning.

> Allocate and prioritize current resources, monetary and non-monetary, to increase the amount of in-person instruction, starting with our youngest learners returning to school at the beginning of January 2021, or sooner. A one-size-fits-all approach does not recognize the different academic and social/emotional needs students have at different grade levels.

> We request a community forum to facilitate a dialogue on how to increase in-person learning so that we may understand what options have been explored, and what factors are influencing the result.

We recognize that we are not the decision makers, nor do we have full visibility into all of the complexities that this situation presents, but we need to better understand the thought process, progress to date, and next steps in creating a plan.

As Joseph Allen, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health associate professor of exposure science, recently said in The Harvard Gazette, “There are devastating consequences from kids being out of school. This is a national emergency. That’s not overstating it.”

We agree, and we urge you to start this process.

Tara and Chris Dunham

Beth and Andrew Humberd

Lauren Anderson

Christine Banzi

Kerri and Steve Belscher

Bill and Courtney Betts

Melissa and David Blanch

Greg and Katie Bond

Lena Calaj

Carina Schusterman and Phil Bonness

Claire and John Chiesa

Traci Connor

Gia and Geremy Cyrier

Teresa and Paul D’Amore

Ana and Charles Daher

Cristin and James Delaney

Beth and Scott DeLeo

Patricia and Mario DeLuca

Megan and David Desanty

Marykate and Russell Dolan

Tammy and Jim Doyle

Courtney and Jack Driscoll

Kate McKenna and Geoff Eads

Julie Finckler

Joe Galvin

Caitlin and Eli Gaulladet

Jessica Ferro and Julian Gent

Rachel and Mike Giaimo

Natalia and Andrew Giles

Karen and Carter Glass

Jonathan and Laura Gouveia

Beth and Tony Grappone

Colleen Murnane Habeski

Joanna and Greg Hannigan

Kaitlyn and Patrick Haggerty

Amy and Bob Hauser

Jennifer and Mario Iocco

Kim and Allen Jenney

Kim and Gene Kaminsky

Kristina and Peter Kashanek

Jennifer and Aaron Kelber

Kristin and Jim Kissane

Melanie and Rich Krance

Erin Mackey

Will and Corey Mason

Ciaran and Fran McGuinness

Jim and April McBrine

Shelley McPenna

Jill and Brendan Melly

Cecelia and Josh Miksch

Jennifer Weininger and Clayton Mohamed

Sharon McGonigle and Masoud Mohazzab

Staci and Ryan Moynihan

Kristi Morris

Sarah and Ryan Murphy

Lindsay and Justin Murray

Mike and Noel Napolitano

Gabrielle and Mark O’Brien

Jennifer and John O’Donohue

Alice and Thad Palmer

Rhonda Musikar-Rosner and Todd Rosner

Christine Ruane

Tabitha and Paul Ross

Silke and Joel Rybicki

Emily and Adam Samansky

Sarah and Rick Santagi

Rob and Lesley Scully

David and Andrea Sheldon

Joy and Brian Soudant

Ann and Timothy Swan

Stephanie and Brian Sweet

Nicole and Chris Szymanski

Janet and Eric Taylor

Julie and David Tremblay

Emily and Pete Vaill

Kathleen Vigneault

Chris and Erica Wainer

Nicole Walsh

Lauren West

Katie and John Whitney

Terry Williams

Gabby and Ned Yetten

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