Friday, May 24, 2024

A Cambridge Public Schools in-person student, as seen in a district video from Dec. 21.

Expanding in-person learning in public schools from the current 1,604 students has a new target date of March 1, the district superintendent told School Committee members Tuesday.

After reverting to all-remote learning in mid-December during a surge of Covid-19 cases, the date to reopen and expand in-person classes has been a moving target. Most recently, the target for expanding in-person classes had been Feb. 8; the new plan moves the date by three calendar weeks, or two school weeks when taking into account the Feb. 15-19 vacation.

The timeline has “always stated Feb. 8 as [the] earliest possible start to expanded learning,” district officials noted on their presentation, emphasizing the word “possible.”

District officials said they have heard principal and staff requests for more time to plan staff assignments, class composition and scheduling; to train staff in safety measures; design indoor traffic patterns; move furniture; and figure out logistics such as accommodating the 6-foot distance required by district health guidelines during meals. The additional weeks also allow time for staff to be tested for Covid-19 after any potential exposure during the February break.

Several committee members said they’d received emails from families frustrated by delays for expanded in-person classes.

“There is no solution possible to please everyone,” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said. “I wish there were. I think the sooner we accept that, the easier it’ll be to get through this together.”

Chicken and the egg

At the heart of plans is a “chicken and the egg” problem – how to assign staff to in-person classrooms when student enrollment is uncertain; and whether families will opt for in-person classes if they don’t know who will be teaching their child.

How expanded learning develops depends on many variables: which staff will work in-person assignments, which students select in-person classes and how much space in each building meets classroom capacity, ventilation requirements and social distancing guidelines.

Educators can apply for remote accommodations for the spring semester, although the district has refined its criteria, bring them in line with those used by the city and surrounding school systems. Families were asked to select either remote learning or apply for an in-person seat by 10 p.m. Friday.

Students whose caregivers didn’t choose will be assigned, said Lyndsay Pinkus-Brown, the district’s chief strategy officer.

Though families had to choose this week, the committee hasn’t actually accepted the district’s plan. “There’s a lot of moving pieces,” Siddiqui said on Friday’s edition of “Women Are Here,” a podcast she co-hosts. “The School Committee is meeting again on Tuesday,” she noted.

Families will be notified Jan. 25 of student assignments for JK through Grade 8; and hear Jan. 29 for grades 9 through 12. Each school may have some flexibility to work with families and staff to fine-tune enrollment and staffing preferences. Families can request a change through the Covid-19 hardship request process after March 1.