Published February 10, 2021


LYNNFIELD — A group of parents criticized the district’s hybrid learning plan during the School Committee’s Feb. 2 meeting.

Planning Board Chairman Brian Charville, who pulled papers for School Committee the day after the meeting, said he has two children attending Summer Street School and a third child will be enrolling in kindergarten this September. While Charville commended the work being undertaken by administrators and educators, he is concerned about “the stark decline in the actual hours of learning” his children are receiving.

“Each day of remote learning seems to have large chunks of downtime for the kids,” said Charville. “I have heard about the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s standards for hours of instruction every two weeks. I would be very surprised if my kids are getting the mandated number of hours.”

Charville asked why last Tuesday was a snow day after Superintendent Kristen Vogel previously announced snow days would be remote learning days this year. He also inquired why the School Department has decided to wait until Wednesday, Feb. 24 to implement the alternating Wednesday morning plan.

“Why do we have to wait until the last week in February to implement this?” Charville asked. “Let’s start it (this) week.”

Charville also asked what “the plan” is to get students back into school full-time.

“Sports are resuming, but our kids are in school less than 50 percent of a full schedule,” said Charville. “The board voted unanimously to allow contact sports, but you can’t resume more school? Come on.”

Charville said other districts have increased in-person learning for younger students.

“Why can’t we?” Charville asked. “The commonwealth says it is safe to be in school. My youngest child has gone to a (private) preschool every day since September with no issues. Clearly it can be done. I think Lynnfield Public Schools can do better than what it is doing.”

Charville said he believes school officials are “making excuses” for why more in-person learning can’t take place.

School Committee Chairman Jamie Hayman said he was going to have Vogel call Charville later in the week to answer his questions when the concerned parent objected.

“These questions shouldn’t be answered offline,” said Charville.

Hayman said the snow day was called because school officials feared power outages would occur during the nor’easter.

“It is much more likely we will be in-person at the end of the year,” said Hayman. “I would rather trade a day of in-person learning for a day of remote instruction.”

Hayman said other districts have implemented different hybrid plans such as bringing students in for half-days five days a week. He said each district’s plan is driven by the available space in those communities’ schools.

“I understand the frustration because we all have kids in this district,” said Hayman. “What I haven’t heard is what we could we be doing differently. The challenge that we have in Lynnfield is we don’t have the space whether it is 3-feet or 6-feet to bring our kids back. The CDC says 6-feet and the DESE says 3- to 6-feet. Either way, we don’t have the space to get our kids back right now.”

Hayman recalled that the town went through a “really bad stretch” of COVID-19 cases that is finally declining.

“If we went to ‘yellow’ a week earlier, we probably would have started having students come in on Wednesday mornings before February vacation,” said Hayman. “But considering where February vacation is situated, it is going to occur afterwards.”

If the pandemic had occurred after the elementary school expansion project was finished, Hayman said the district would have been able to bring more students into both buildings.

In response to a question from Charville, School Committee member Phil McQueen recalled that the board visited each school last month in order to see how the hybrid model was working.

“I went around the elementary schools,” said McQueen. “There is no place to put an extra desk in those classrooms unless you take every other piece of furniture out of those rooms at which point they cease to be classrooms. There is really no room in those classrooms to get more students in safely under the Department of Education and the CDC guidelines.”

School Committee member Stacy Dahlstedt said Lynnfield High School is using the auditorium for study halls due to space constraints.

“Every square inch of these buildings is being utilized,” said Dahlstedt.

A frustrated Charville said, “What I hear you all saying is LPS is doing the best that it can.”

“I sure hope you are right,” said Charville.

Canterbury Road resident Nancy McManus also expressed frustrations with the district’s hybrid model. She wants school officials to give parents a timeline for when full in-person learning will resume.

“It’s vague,” said McManus. “I don’t want to speak for every parent in the district, but I would be willing to pay whatever amount of money it costs to buy plexiglass shields to bring every kid back to make it safe.”

Hayman said it is difficult to set a timeline for bringing students back when officials “don’t know when teachers will get vaccinated.”

“If the state is going to prioritize getting kids back into school, then the state needs to prioritize getting teachers vaccinated,” said Hayman. “The two are linked to what is going on.”

Lowell Street resident Christina Itzkowitz expressed concerns about students’ mental health.

“Socially, these kids need to be in school,” said Itzkowitz. “It is detrimental.”

Itzkowitz also took issue with Elementary Curriculum Directors Maureen Fennessy and Christina Perry’s presentation earlier in the meeting, where both of them stated they were pleased with student assessment data.

“Everything is not fine and dandy,” said Itzkowitz. “Why can’t we come up with innovative ways to get our kids in a classroom? We have to be able to find something. In-person learning is all that matters right now. There are so many other schools that are figuring it out. Why can’t we figure it out?”

Hayman said he shares Itzkowitz’s concern about students’ mental health.

“We need to be focused on that,” said Hayman.

Bryant Street resident Kristen Elworthy said she wants school officials to find a way to bring younger students into school more frequently.

“I have a friend in Danvers, and his kindergartener is in school five days a week,” said Elworthy. “If the vaccinations are slowed down, please think about ways to get them in.”

While Elworthy noted that she receives a number of emails from administrators and teachers, she said school officials can do a better job communicating district news to families about the timeline for bringing students back.

“When you say you have a plan that you will tell parents about after teachers get vaccinated, it feels nebulous,” said Elworthy.