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Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius On Plans For Fall21:56
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New Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Brenda Cassellius in the WBUR studio. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
New Superintendent of Boston Public Schools Brenda Cassellius in the WBUR studio. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The complexities of schooling this fall are plentiful. Many districts across the state are figuring out what needs to be done before September, which is only a few weeks away.

We take listener calls on schools and reopening with Brenda Cassellius, superintendent of the state's largest school district, Boston Public Schools.

WBUR education reporter Carrie Jung provides analysis.

Interview Highlights

On Boston Public Schools opening:

"We are planning on doing a September 21 start date to give us some time to be able to have teachers be prepared and to get in the classrooms. [They'll] welcome students and parents back through student conferences - virtual student conferences - and to then walk our buildings and make sure that they're ready."

"...The commissioner asked us to actually turn in three different [opening] plans. One for all in-person, one for all remote, and one that's a hybrid. So then what he has asked us to do is to indicate our preferred model, fully understanding that at any point in the year we may move from one model to the next. He is wanting to make sure we're prepared for all of the above ... currently right now, the science is indicating that we would be able to open up hybrid."

On balancing risks with reopening schools:

"Well, you heard the mayor talking about this in his press conference just the other day. And obviously this weighs very heavy on my heart and on the heart of the whole community, really. We know that kids who are more vulnerable are impacted at a much greater rate as well as we know that our students who have disabilities [are impacted at a much greater rate] ... There is a huge need out there for students who didn't engage with us over the spring or are impacted negatively now with their learning."

"... [There was] a new study out today around the younger students and the impacts at their early childhood grade levels. You know, students who are age three through age 10 and just their own child development. So certainly balancing that with the contagion and the community spread is important. But we believe - and the science has said - that if we follow these guidelines and protocols around wearing a mask and  having the airflow, staying six feet apart, and washing hands regularly, and doing the health checks, and not coming to school if you're sick, that seems to be mitigating the risk to where the balance tends to be. Where you could open for at least special populations. We know that internationally there are countries who are doing this well and are able to mitigate that risk."

On the outside claims that a hybrid return approach would be disastrous: 

"I think that the reason that they have said that is because of the time that's out of school, and the potential that students could go to child care and be in a different type of environment and then come back into the family pods that we have for their homeroom classes. And so I think that's why they think that could increase the spread.

I don't really have an opinion about that other than to continue to look at the science and to continue to better understand it. We believe that - and science has said - that if we are able to put in place these protocols, then we are able to mitigate the risk to our students. And again, our students would come on Monday and Tuesday and then have the three days off, and then come again until the following Monday and Tuesday. Then we would do deep cleaning in the space and do the deep cleaning on the weekends."

On balancing the health needs of everyone: 

"The first year of a superintendency is always a challenge because you're getting to know a new community...it's a big learning curve and it's a large organization with 10,000 employees. And we count on each other quite a bit to build the team, to rally and get ready for our children in every instance, and just kind of keep our focus on equity and continue to work our strategic plan the best that we can."

"And then, you know, mitigate whatever we have to mitigate with this current pandemic crisis. It is a lot. There is a lot on the plate. But you just continue to lead and take the next right step, [it's] what I like to tell my team, no matter what comes at us, we just continue to take the next right step. And we have an incredibly talented team here at Boston Public Schools who care deeply about children, talented teachers who are passionate about our kids and around social justice and equity issues. And as long as we keep children at the center, we measure everything in child benefit. I think we're going to get there."

This segment aired on August 13, 2020.

Jamie Bologna Twitter Producer/Director, Radio Boston
Jamie Bologna is producer and director of Radio Boston.

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Tiziana Dearing Twitter Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.

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Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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