Planning for COVID's Impact on Classrooms & the Mental Health Surge - Rachel for Cambridge

Planning for COVID's Impact on Classrooms & the Mental Health Surge

Dear Friends,

I hope that the blooming of spring has boosted your spirits.  Please let me know if I can assist you with school-related - or other! - struggles.  We all are served by remembering that, in addition to wanting to show up for one another, we feel better when we help each other.

My heart was warmed learning that a woman who saw lunch distribution underway started making cloth masks for children and families.  Another stranger brought us Dunkin’ coffee on a raw, rainy day.

Since I last wrote, the School Committee postponed our vote on the FY21 school budget.  We wanted a deeper understanding of how the administration was adjusting plans based on the pandemic, since the proposed budget was created prior to school buildings closing.  Mayor Siddiqui called for a series of special meetings focused on COVID-19 response, of which the first two were held this week.  

Here are a few meeting notes:

  • At our regular May 5th meeting, the Superintendent presented what the district has done to date.  I introduced motion 20-71, co-sponsored by the Mayor and Member Wilson, that would have required weekly, individual outreach to all CPS students as part of the universal tier of intervention.  I know many of our teachers and schools are moving mountains to connect with students and believe every child would benefit from such connection.  From such outreach, staff could identify students who need further support.  Upon hearing from the administration and school leaders that they felt this was an onerous “one size fits all” approach, the Committee referred the motion to the Superintendent.  He is to report back with a recommendation of how to proceed at our regular meeting on May 19th.


  • At both the regular meeting and the first special meeting on responding to COVID-19, we heard a diverse set of personal truths.  During public comment, caregivers spoke to their concerns about their children facing irreparable gaps in education.  Principals and teachers spoke to how their jobs have transformed overnight and they are challenged to adapt despite their ‘round the clock work.  Members of our Special Education Parent Advisory Council, My Brother’s Keeper Cambridge, and Building Equity Bridges spoke to the heightened issues of equity and need for inclusive planning.   


  • While the administration outlined the multitude of considerations that must be addressed in contingency plans at the first special meeting, most of the evening was dedicated to hearing what is happening currently in schools.  My colleagues and I requested detailed plans for multiple scenarios, including continued remote learning, a staggered return, and rolling closures.  I am eager to hear more specifics at the special meetings this coming Tuesday and Thursday.  You can sign up to watch or contribute public comment here.


  • I was honored to be a guest for Representative Marjorie Decker’s virtual town hall focused on education.  Former Education Secretary Paul Reville outlined the challenges and opportunities of this moment, many of which I have been discussing with caregivers and educators.  You can watch the one-hour session here. 



While my long-term sights remain set on how we can redesign school to be more engaging, inclusive,  and impactful, my short-term actions are largely focused on the widely-expected coming mental health surge.  I’ve heard from elementary school parents who report their children “wish they were dead,” and from upper school parents whose children are feeling increasingly isolated and depressed.  Some of our high school students are anxious about preparing for college, some are grieving the loss of an in-person prom and graduation.  Given this context, I’ve been partnering with Mayor Siddiqui and CHA to provide “Mental Health Mondays” throughout this month.  Last Monday, I represented the School Committee for an overview session.  This Monday, the panel will focus on mental health in communities of color.  For Monday, May 18th, I have been arranging a panel of therapists and teachers to take questions from students and families about enduring this difficult time.  Please submit your questions here and tune in to CCTV Channel 9 from 3-4p.

Connection and community will see us through this hard time, so please stay in touch!

In collaboration,


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