Where to Start (School)? - Rachel for Cambridge

Where to Start (School)?

Dear Friends,

Where should we start?  The School Committee is considering many important policy items, the most timely among them being the forthcoming recommendation from Superintendent Salim for how our young scholars and educators return to school next month.  Will they spend some of their days at school and some at home?  Will we begin all instruction remotely? 

The Superintendent’s proposals have evolved in recent days in response to critical feedback from the Educators of Color Coalition, the Cambridge Families of Color Coalition, scientists on the COVID-19 Taskforce, and countless others.  This slide outlines options his team is evaluating.  They are likely to be revised further before the School Committee meets tomorrow.



You may be wondering how I think we should return to school.  As with all of my colleagues, my priorities are to keep our loved ones safe and healthy and to build the relationships and learning communities that will help our young people grow.  Having followed the scientific news and had the privilege of conversing with local epidemiologists in recent months, I understand that we need to create layers of protective measures so that, if one fails, the others will still protect members of our community.  The district has been working tirelessly and has some of these protective measures in place.  For example, the Chief Operating Officer has secured upwards of 27,000 masks.  His team also has installed hand washing stations and sanitizer dispensers all over each of our schools.  


[Image from “What Back to School Might Look Like in the Age of Covid-19,” illustrated by Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, NYT July 29, 2020]


Two other protective measures that would increase my own confidence in in-person learning are Covid-19 testing and the improvement of air ventilation.  We are incredibly lucky that the Broad Institute is part of our community and stands ready to help us with surveillance testing.  We should take advantage of this resource.  Knowing that the virus can remain afloat in a room that is not well ventilated, we also need to ensure each classroom, common space (including bathrooms) and work space has adequate air flow before we send our children and dedicated staff into buildings.

[Image from “What Back to School Might Look Like in the Age of Covid-19,” illustrated by Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, NYT July 29, 2020]


I agree with Dr. Salim that we probably will not want to remain in remote learning mode until we have a vaccine, as that could mean another 18-24 months of learning from home.  While I am not ready to send our loved ones into buildings in early September, I do believe we can return them there when we have the above safety measures in place, assuming local transmission remains at its current level or lower.  In the meantime, I will continue pushing for students who are not well served by remote learning to convene in schools in small groups (outside of buildings as much as possible), and for all families and teachers to connect individually.

That is my current thinking.  I reserve the right to revise my recommendations as we all learn more about how this virus works.

Tomorrow night’s School Committee meeting (agenda item 9) includes two policies I’ve drafted that flow from what I’ve outlined above:

  • Motion 20-207 calls upon the district to engage an HVAC and respiratory pathogen expert to review our school ventilation systems.  It also requires the district to provide public school-by-school data on air quality in each room as well as plans for mitigations.  Mayor Siddiqui co-sponsored this motion.


  • Motion 20-206 updates district policy so that programs like First Work that provide stipends will give priority to young people who qualify for free or reduced lunch and other income-based supports.  If adopted, this motion also would encourage CPSD, City and non-profit partners to generate additional opportunities for stipending young people whose families have low incomes.  Possibilities include paying high school scholars for mentoring younger children, stipending student members of boards and commissions, and underwriting training costs for Red Cross babysitting.  Mayor Siddiqui and Member Wilson co-sponsored this motion.

[Committee via Zoom]

Working collaboratively with my colleagues, I’ve co-sponsored additional motions to:

  • Engage the Broad Institute in surveillance testing.
  • Coordinate childcare during remote learning days.
  • Inventory spaces outside of CPSD that could be used for teaching and learning.
  • Extend the MCAS (standardized testing) moratorium another year.
  • Define a set of “power standards” that teachers use for instruction this year.


There is much more that caregivers, scholars, educators, scientists, administrators, and elected officials are discussing.  Many of us have been pushing to make shifts to anti-racist teaching as we grapple with Covid-19.  We were dedicated to dismantling the district’s white supremacy culture prior to the pandemic, and the pandemic may help this work, since we have to rethink school from top to bottom now. 



In closing, while local community leaders have taken a crash course in public health, I believe we would not be in this predicament if we had reliable federal leadership.  I encourage you to VOTE in the primary on September 1st -- and to do so safely by mail.  The deadline to register for a mail ballot is August 26th.  You can reach the Cambridge Election Commission at (617) 349-4361 with any questions. Vote in memory of Representative John Lewis. Vote like our lives depend on it, because they do.

In collaboration,


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