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School closures extended to May 4, Lynn plans for further

By Gayla Cawley | March 26, 2020

LYNN — A day after School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said he did not anticipate students would return to classes on April 7, as scheduled, Gov. Charlie Baker announced he was extending the statewide school closures to May 4. 

Lynn Public Schools have been closed since Friday, March 13 due to concerns over the coronavirus. 

Baker initially ordered a statewide three-week closure on March 15, but announced Wednesday afternoon he was extending the closures of all public and private schools and non-emergency childcare programs for an additional month to prevent the further spread of the virus. 

The announcement came a day after the Lynn School Committee held a virtual emergency meeting, where Tutwiler indicated he was not expecting students to return in two weeks, as originally planned, and that it was possible they may not return at all this school year. 

“We’re watching the situation evolve,” Tutwiler said. “We are planning accordingly both for the cancellation extending beyond three weeks and for the one in which classes will be canceled for the rest of the year.”

Tutwiler told the School Committee that Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) ELA testing has already been postponed for grades 3-8 and 10, and that grades have closed early for elementary and secondary schools. No decisions have been made on the remainder of MCAS testing and end of year events such as graduation, he said. 

School Committee member John Ford asked Tuesday night if it was too soon to look at extending the city’s school district closure until the week after spring vacation week, citing that it would give people more time to make plans.

Ford said he considered the initial April 7 date of return to be too quick. President Donald Trump has said that he wants everything up and running again by April 12, but “I wish I had the pills he’s taking,” said Ford. 

The statewide closure does in fact extend one week past scheduled spring vacation week on most district calendars. The extension is aimed at giving school administrators and educators added planning time to ensure students can complete course requirements, as well as provide teachers with time to expand remote learning opportunities, according to Baker’s office.

Tutwiler said March 13, the first day of canceled classes, was used as a working day for staff to develop grade-level content-based and enrichment-based activities and resources for families to leverage during the cancellation, which was recommended by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

More than 4,000 educational activities have been uploaded to the school’s website, which are accessible to families and differ for each of the district’s 25 schools. Students are expected to complete the online resources to continue their education during their extended time off, Tutwiler said. 

However, School Committee member Brian Castellanos said he’s been hearing from a lot of students and families who have been struggling to access the resources because they lack computers and an internet connection. 

Similarly, committee member Jared Nicholson wanted to know if there was a plan to provide students with the necessary technology to complete the resources. 

While Tutwiler said he’s confident the majority of students and families will be able to access the materials through their own phones and Internet connection, if they lack a computer, or through help from a peer, he acknowledged that some families may not have access to either. 

However, he said he has concerns about providing students with Chromebooks, as school districts such as Boston and Lawrence have done to close that technology gap, as faculty may not be properly equipped to “connect meaningfully” with their students, because they may lack those resources themselves. 

“You start with the staff first, having the tools and the know-how and then you bring the students into that scenario,” said Tutwiler. “This would be sort of a backwards one that I would have lots of concern with that happening effectively. I think there’s a way to establish connection with students without going that route.” 

Tutwiler said he supports teachers who are using popular virtual methods, such as Zoom, to connect with their students during the shutdown, but the district is leaning toward another remote learning plan as a whole

“I encourage that and support it 100 percent, but we’re working on a district plan that will have some expectations,” said Tutwiler. “We want to make sure it’s thoughtful and thorough and there’s equity in it, (where) every student has the opportunity to connect with a teacher.” 

Tutwiler compared the district’s efforts to respond to the coronavirus as “building a plane while it’s in the air,” an analogy Mayor Thomas M. McGee said he’s found himself using while speaking of the city’s efforts. 

“At least we’re in the air,” said McGee, who serves as School Committee chairman. “We’re focused on working together to get through these times. We’ll face the tough decisions and challenges over the next few weeks and months in this uncharted territory.”