September 30, 2020

Offering a Variation on Phase-In For Public Schools’ Reopening Plan

To the Editor:

I recently heard the president of Vassar discussing her school’s phased-in reopening. I’m not entirely up-to-date on PPS’ current phase-in plan, but here’s a variation on phase-in.

Since no one wants to be told what to do, could you ask which teachers — and how many — want to return and feel ready to do so? I think you surveyed how many families are ready.

If you opened conservatively and slowly by starting with, say, two classrooms at each EL, maybe three-four at JW and four-five at PHS, you could both see and demonstrate the level of safety at each. Bringing all back is scary for all concerned, but being able to see the progress — or problems — would reassure teachers, families, and even townspeople in general, like me. Give these cohorts 14 days minimum before admitting another group.

Is it not likely that only a handful of students for any one classroom will come, and that those who come will be spread across age groups? If so, let teachers work with more than one age group (aren’t all certified for K-12, or at least elementary, middle, and HS?), e.g., 4s and 5s, or 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds. Let the more advanced in any age group work at whatever level they can (sometimes with 5s with 6 and 7s). Those who need more guidance will get it; those who are faster will get more independence. Administrators can respond more easily to any uptick in infection as well as show families a clear and reassuringly measured plan.

Meanwhile, teachers who feel they need to work from home can both do so and be observed for their ability to work remotely. Those who are unwilling or unable may themselves choose to find other work elsewhere. Those who want to learn can be retrained.

This cross-age grouping is standard Montessori practice, as you probably know. For PPS it would allow community-responsive reopening, force no one out, and still satisfy state guidelines. Most of all, for me at least, it would inspire confidence in PPS.

PPS has worked so hard on safety; may reopening justify the effort!

Mary Clurman
Harris Road