August 23, 2020
Dear Canton Families and Staff,
I write to you today to inform you of an important vote regarding the start of the 2020-2021 school year. And I’m reaching out to you with genuine acknowledgment and sincere empathy around the challenges each school decision has on our community, your families, and our students and staff during this global pandemic.
At the last meeting of August 20, the School Committee voted 3-2 in favor of the recommendation for a phased-in approach. Based on the elements of the vote, in-person learning would be phased in with the entry point for the school year likely starting with Remote Learning 2.0. The first day of school will be September 16. The decision was made with the understanding of current Canton metrics regarding COVID-19 and in consultation with the Canton Health Department.
As I previously shared, in accordance with the Department of Public Health (DPH) dashboard, Canton is in the yellow and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recommends districts to be in hybrid or remote when in the yellow range. The DPH dashboard is not a decision-maker, but it helps to inform our decisions. We are closely monitoring the situation and the metrics regarding COVID-19. The DPH dashboard, and consideration of many factors and conversations, shifted our thinking and informed the recommendation and subsequent vote.
The very first priority and the top commitment of the fall reopening plan has always been, and will always be, the safety of our students and staff during this time of uncertainty. Our constant monitoring of the public health data, ongoing collaboration with the Canton Health Department, and our considerations for the best learning environment and approach, collectively, are a driving force. We want students back in school; students need to be back in school.
We will share more detailed plans and timelines of a phase-in approach that meets the various developmental and educational needs of our students at the upcoming School Committee meeting. For right now, in the likely event that schools open in remote learning on September 16, the following points are key:
- We are following the DESE guidelines to address the services of our high needs student population. The students with special circumstances will be all-in, 4.5 days a week.
- Remote Learning 2.0 would be the entry point for the majority of the K-12 student population.
- The Remote Learning Pathway, the alternative full-year fully remote option, is in development with preliminary lists of students who would be attending school through this model. Communication around detailed plans and a formal registration for the Remote Learning Pathway will be forthcoming from Principals late next week.
We are all in an extremely difficult and fluid planning process that involves different considerations and shifts that affect so many. We know that every shift has a ripple effect, and we acknowledge that it is frustrating and stressful to plan in times of uncertainty. While last week’s decision was disruptive, we know the importance of giving time for our families and staff to prepare. Further information will be shared at the next School Committee meeting.
The phase-in plan is a measured approach that balances both safety and the educational needs of our school community. And we have a deep understanding that our students need to return to school for social growth and connections to their peers and teachers. The timelines are important in this approach, and will be determined once other variables are defined. And, again, further details will be shared at the next School Committee meeting.
Finally, we know that the start of school is a time-honored tradition and an extremely special experience for students, families and staff. While we navigate the very technical aspects of this return, and the varying changes and perspectives, we remain deeply focused on the student experience for this school year — the special moments, the deep connections to teachers, the great energy of a new school year, the photos, the learning, the play, and the igniting of interest areas. These will happen, and they will happen differently and creatively.
Our staff is so looking forward to meeting students and families, and we all cherish the joy that comes from school. Our staff has prepared through professional development and their own learning this summer, in addition to the staff days prior to the start of school, to provide the best experience for students across all models. Most importantly, they can’t wait to develop relationships with your children. These relationships are foundational to great teaching and learning and the overall school experience.
The joy of school will be there. The sense of community and the sense of belonging will be there. The student experience is at the center of our work. When you hear from your Principals in the next couple days, you will hear that joy in their words.
I am excited for the school year, and I thank you for your understanding and your support.
Dr. Jennifer Fischer-Mueller