Status of schools unclear this fall

Students are returning to school soon, and no one is quite sure what to expect.

With the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus on the rise, it’s unclear whether school will look more like it did pre-pandemic, like it did last year, or somewhere in between.

Takeru Nagayoshi, a teacher in New Bedford, said everything is up in the air. “Am I going to be asked to do hybrid again? Will I have to teach in masks? Are distancing rules still in effect? There are so many things that are going to impact my own planning and how I’m going to be teaching this year and the fact that there are so many unknown variables and the fact that we’re most likely not going to know until a few weeks before school starts is really anxiety provoking,” he said.

Tracy O’Connell Novick, a member of the Worcester School Committee who has two daughters in the schools, said she is disappointed state education officials have failed to make tough calls on masking and vaccination mandates and instead leaving those decisions up to local officials. 

“I would never have guessed that the state would have sort of collapsed in the ways that it has – and continues to, really, even right up until now,” she said.

On The Codcast, the Reboot series revisits the now-familiar story of how education took a major hit during COVID and then speculates about where it’s headed next. While what’s coming next is unclear, the guests on the podcast pushed back against the idea that schools and students need to make up ground they lost last year.

Novick said she has been reading stories in the newspaper about how students have fallen behind and what should be done about it. She said the priorities expressed in those stories are messed up.  

“We’ve had a freaking pandemic,” she said. “There’s over a million children who have lost their primary caregivers that are like literally dead. And the amount of time and attention that I see paid to that versus paid to third grade reading is just catastrophic. 

Novick said education priorities are skewed because the fallout of COVID has fallen disproportionately harder on children of color, who have been far more likely to lose a parent or a grandparent.  

“So we’re going to have this, you know, panic over third grade reading because maybe my middle class white kid didn’t spend quite as much time sitting in a classroom as they would have,” she said. “Meanwhile, the number of kids, particularly who are Black and Latino, who have lost someone, an adult who they loved and lived with over the past 18 months, like the hole that that has left in so many families and in so many children’s lives is huge.

Tanya Nixon-Sillberg is a Black mother of a third grader in Boston who runs an organization called Little Uprisings, which seeks to address systemic racism in the classroom. She abhors the whole idea of catching up.

“It’s not a real thing,” she says. “Like what we’re asking for kids to do, right, is we’re asking them to catch up to an ideology.

She wants her daughter to get her priorities straight. “My biggest thing for her is that we work on the social and emotional before we work on the skills of what happens in the classroom,” she said.

Nixon-Sillberg said her daughter flourished this summer while participating in a program that focused on relationships. “She was a lot more apt to be a part of the learning community when she was a part of the social community,” she said.

Novick said school officials need to focus on what’s important. “I worry whenever we try to boil education down to this is about reading and math, and forget that public education in Massachusetts is about preparing children to eventually become adults who participate in democracy. I mean, that’s our constitutional mandate. And I think that if we can remember that when we’re doing things like constructing the budget or setting our goals for our school district or those kinds of things, I think we do much better than if we’re immediately thinking ahead to next MCAS scores, next accountability status, or whatever it is,” she said. 

BRUCE MOHL

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Where do you stand? Rev. Eugene Rivers called on the Boston mayoral candidates to address the issue of gun violence, saying shootings and homicides may be down but gunshots are still ringing out in sections of the city. He cited two recent incidents in Dorchester and Roxbury where dozens of shots were fired but luckily no one was hit.

“Had 46 shots taken place in the Seaport area, people would not say, ‘Oh, crime is down,’” Rivers said. “It would have been understood as a major problem, it would have become a national news story, and there would be a major mobilization of resources to address the problem. It is only because those shootings were in poor Black neighborhoods that it was not given the moral and political attention it should have.” 

— Rivers was particularly critical of acting Mayor Kim Janey, whom he is supporting in the election. Janey and the other candidates said they have addressed the issue of gun violence in their campaigns. Read more.

Biden pushes electric vehicles: President Biden announced a series of policy measures designed to get people out of gas-fired cars and trucks and into zero emission vehicles. He said he intends to increase fuel efficiency standards and restrict tailpipe emissions, measures that would hike the cost of gas-powered vehicles and incentivize drivers to give electrics a try. He also signed an executive order calling for half of all cars and trucks sold in 2030 to be zero emission vehicles. He won buy-in from some of the major automakers by promising to use federal funds to build a national charging station network and offer tax credits to buyers of zero emission vehicles.

— The president’s moves could provide a big lift to states like Massachusetts, which have ambitious targets for zero emission vehicles but no clear path to achieve them. The state’s 2030 plan envisions 750,000 zero emission vehicles on the road by the end of the decade, up from roughly 30,000 currently. The Baker administration has been counting on the Transportation Climate Initiative to help propel sales of electric vehicles, but the initiative has failed to gain traction in most states and appears to be on shaky ground. Read more.

More VaxMillions winners: The winners again were people who were vaccinated prior to the launch of the lottery game, so it’s questionable whether the drawing is serving its intended purpose of spurring more people to get innoculated. The lottery, which is costing the state $10 million, has three more drawings. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey says she regrets drawing an analogy between vaccine requirements at restaurants and slavery or Donald Trump’s birtherism charges against Barack Obama. (Boston Globe) A Globe editorial slams her comments, saying they “gave fuel to anti-vaxxers, trolls, Russian state media, and right-wing outlets nationwide.” 

Janey is facing growing pressure to scuttle a city zoning plan that would allow developer Don Chiofaro to build a 600-foot tower adjacent to Harbor Towers on the waterfront. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Cambridge-based Moderna says its COVID vaccine remains effective after six months but the company says booster shots may be needed by the winter for those who have received the initial two-dose inoculation. (Boston Globe)

A growing number of the people getting sick with COVID in Massachusetts are young adults. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Vaccine passports are coming — and a consortium of tech companies is working on ways to ensure their integrity. (Boston Globe)

With their strike 151 days old, St. Vincent nurses reject the hospital’s “last, best, and final” offer. (Telegram & Gazette)

ELECTIONS

Mass. Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons says he met with Donald Trump and reports (to no great surprise) that the former president says he’s no fan of Charlie Baker and would be inclined to back Geoff Diehl in a primary faceoff with him. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Coca-Cola announces plans to close its Northampton bottling plant, which employs 320 people, in 2023. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

United Airlines is requiring all of its employees to get vaccinated. (Wall Street Journal)

EDUCATION

Boston School Superintendent Brenda Cassellius remains on the job despite the fact that a temporary license she was operating under expired. (Boston Herald) News that she has delayed taking the needed state exam for two years generated outrage and sympathy. (Boston Globe

Federal relief funds are keeping small New England colleagues afloat, but it’s unclear for how long. (GBH)

Parents are split on whether they want children to wear masks to school next year. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Berkshire Eagle takes readers on a tour of the Berkshire Museum, which is reopening with a facelift financed by the controversial sale of many pieces of art. 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Proposed changes to 911 response policies for mental health crisis calls could take responsibility out of the hands of armed officers and reallocate it to “co-response” teams of police and mental health workers. (WBUR)

Acting Mayor Kim Janey pledged to bring about a “new era of transparency and accountability” in Boston, but that doesn’t include releasing records of police officers accused of misconduct. (WBUR)

Former New Bedford police officer Joshua Fernandes admitted to four criminal counts, including violation of a restraining order, in district court this week. The remaining nine counts were dismissed. (South Coast)

Nine Marblehead police officers violated department policy by failing to report a 2019 incident where a swastika was carved into an officer’s car. (Salem News)

Due to a loophole in the 2018 criminal justice reform law, the state has 6,300 untested rape kits. A new law will require all that evidence to be tested within 180 days. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Showdowns between Fox News reporter Peter Doocy and White House press secretary Jen Psaki are becoming a regular feature of the daily White House press briefing. (Washington Post)