Editor, Townsman:

The parents and educators of the Andover Public Schools need answers.

Parents are asked to decide: hybrid or remote? But what do either of these models really look like for our students, their families and the staff; and what are the specific safety measures being taken to keep our school communities - and our broader community - safe?

On Monday, Aug. 11, the School Committee voted 3-2 to send teachers and students back into school buildings under a hybrid model that lacks sufficient detail, hinges on asynchronous learning much of the time, changes school start/end times, and simply does not take into account the health and safety of all students and staff.

Many thanks to the two School Committee members, Paul Murphy and Tracey Spruce, for their leadership in acknowledging that although we all want to get back to school this fall, the risks posed by the global pandemic far outweigh the benefit of students “seeing” their teachers in person one to two times per week.

The Andover Education Association is proposing a phased-in approach to start the school year, beginning with remote learning and moving toward an in-person model.

To ensure student safety and ours, until it is safe to return to the buildings, we are committed to providing a rich and rigorous remote education plan that allows for continuity of curriculum and building important personal connections.

In this model teachers can fine-tune remote teaching strategies, focus on providing creative synchronous learning while managing asynchronous projects, and work collaboratively with administration to build an in-person plan that keeps safety and student experience at the center of it.

The AEA has met with the administration several times to negotiate and collaborate on a safe return to school but has been unsuccessful in making meaningful progress or receiving specific answers to important questions.

We continue to inquire about personal protective equipment for staff (we’ve been told to provide our own), disinfecting protocols between classes, school-specific data to support ventilation system effectiveness, hallway movement, and monitoring of large gathering spaces. What is the protocol for quarantine when students and teachers become infected? How will a substitute lead class if a teacher is out for two weeks?

Along with many important questions from parents — such as accommodations for individualized education programs and sibling groupings, for example — there have been no answers.

A recent Boston Globe article, “Hybrid schooling could be a public health disaster, some doctors warn” (Aug. 13, 2020) states, “Call it hopscotch or hybrid or blended learning, but some infectious disease experts call it a potential public health disaster. Alternating schedules could cause children to ebb and flow within an expanded network, transitioning from home to school child-care centers and thus having a greater risk of exposure or transmission.”

The article argues that while at first sounding like a good idea, “… when you think really critically about it … you realize that hybrid schooling actually produces more networks by which the virus can spread” (Dr. William Hanage, epidemiologist at Harvard’s School of Public Health).

Also, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, “… about 97,000 new cases among children were reported in the last two weeks of July, about a 40% increase from the total number of cases before the period began.”

What’s more, according to NPR.org, Robert Redfield, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned on Friday this could be “the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had” when considering the impact of COVID-19 and the flu.

Andover teachers are asking our School Committee to avoid such a “disaster” and reconsider the educators’ proposal for a phased-in, safer, student-centered learning model.

The AEA asks that parents and families contact members of the School Committee, Superintendent Sheldon Berman and Assistant Superintendent Sandra Trach and demand a safe, phased-in reopening of Andover Public Schools.

Until our questions and concerns are sufficiently addressed, there is no safe path for return, nor a way for parents to make an informed decision.

Colette Berard, Doherty Middle School

Holly Currier, Andover High School

Connie D'amato, Bancroft/West Elementary Schools

Andover Education Association

Action Team Co-Chairs

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