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Superintendent's Update - Friday, February 26, 2021

Dear Parents/Guardians of the Belmont Public Schools Community,

I write to update you on the recent announcement by DESE Commissioner Jeff Riley regarding the full return of elementary students across the Commonwealth and how it will impact students and families in Belmont.

On Tuesday, 2/23/2021 Commissioner Riley requested permission from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to require elementary students to have an in-person, full-time option, starting on April 5. His request will allow districts to continue offering a remote-only model, but will eliminate any hybrid options.  On Wednesday afternoon Commissioner Riley held a conference call with Superintendents, further articulating some of the details of his intent.  On Monday, March 22nd the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on whether to give Commissioner Riley the authority to mandate this requirement.

Because Commissioner Riley’s goal of increasing live instructional time for students is very much in line with our own goals, we will not wait until March 22nd to begin the important work of considering the implications of this change.  We will continue to plan thoughtfully and thoroughly so that we are ready to adjust to any changes that may be mandated.

Even before the Commissioner’s announcement our Return to In-Person Learning Working Group (RIPLWG) had begun meeting with the goal of providing more in-school time for students who want it.  As such, the Commissioner’s announcement will inform the work of this group.

There will be many details to come in the weeks to follow that we will need to discuss and operationalize for this next step to take place successfully.  We intend to be very public and transparent about our work, and will share all of the materials and data we are using with the entire community next week.  We sent an email earlier this week with the resources used at our first RIPLWG meeting for your review.  The next set of resources will include classroom enrollment data, room capacity measurements, and more.  Please continue to refer to the Return to In-Person Learning page on our website.

The Commissioner’s approach directs students to two models: Full in-person or full remote, eliminating any hybrid learning model altogether.  We await the Commissioner’s plan and updated guidance to ensure our work is directed toward the intended goal.  We will survey families on this shift as soon as we can provide an accurate picture of what the two models will look like in Belmont so that you can make an informed decision.  It is important that families have a full picture of what either model will be before committing.

The Belmont Public Schools is committed to more in-person learning for students, whether the mandate is handed down or not.  We will continue working to provide greater in-school time to those students who want it, while also maintaining a remote option.  We will do this work as we always do: thoroughly, thoughtfully, and in conjunction with all stakeholders -- students, families, and educators.

Our next communication to families will be on Tuesday after our next RIPLWG meeting.


John P. Phelan
Superintendent of Schools