The Provincetown Schools plan to open next month with online learning only — at least, for the foreseeable future. At the same time, other Outer Cape schools are opening with in-person classes being offered either five days a week or on a hybrid model.
It is not too late for the Provincetown School Committee to reconsider this decision, and there are good reasons to do so.
I served on the school committee for 10 years. During that decade, under the leadership of Supt. Beth Singer, now retired, the school rose up, through extremely hard work, to become one of the best schools anywhere. An International Baccalaureate school, it engages kids with this community and its resources, like the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, the Center for Coastal Studies, and the dune shacks. My two boys graduated last year with a great education.
This is a school that includes children from six months old to eighth grade. It is a school that both children and parents choose to attend because it is special. And it has become a source of pride for parents who work in local businesses.
Surrounding the school is a whole community that has worked incredibly hard to contain the coronavirus. School board members and teachers were among those who worked in and operated local businesses this summer with protocols in place to protect everyone’s health. It has worked and helped save our local tourism economy for the future.
Right now, we are in a very good place in keeping the virus under control, even at this point in our busy summer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the state Dept. of Public Health, the entire Cape is classified as having a low and falling number of Covid cases.
And our position stands to improve even further. We have less than two weeks left before Labor Day, when many businesses will be closing down, and our population will begin to dwindle.
Some people have expressed concern about the school building. While it may look old, let’s remember that a $6 million upgrade was made recently (half of which was paid for by the Commonwealth) and this included brand-new ventilation and heating systems. In a building where the ventilation system works, we also have plenty of space. Inevitably, some families will choose online learning, so there will likely be even more space for students and teachers to spread out at school. But even if everyone were to opt to be in the building, there is plenty of space for healthy distancing protocols to work.
Against this assessment of the school community’s strengths, we need to take a look at online learning. The fact that it does not work well was clearly demonstrated last spring. One reason for that is the demands it places on families: it requires the at-home presence of an adult familiar with technology and able to teach children. Add to that the need for families to cope with the emotional issues related to isolation that became evident with our kids.
I have heard the shocked concern of local families who do not have the technical expertise or the ability to be home during the day to play that home teaching role that’s so important to online learning. From their point of view, we are throwing the kids under the bus. Fear rises, too, with the threat that the state’s Dept. of Children and Families will intervene when kids are not completing their work.
Provincetown Schools serve free breakfast and lunch for all because 75 percent of our students qualified for those meals. That in itself represents a need that cannot be replaced with food distributed once a week.
I have been hearing that our “school choice” parents, who bring us their children from other districts, plan to send their children to other schools that offer classroom learning.
The way we return to school this fall is a decision that must be based on science and metrics, not fear. And the CDC and state health experts say that here, with our good local numbers, we can open, with the right protocols in place.
Let’s reconsider. The future of the school, and of the many kids we owe an education to, is at stake.
Cass Benson served as a member of the Provincetown School Committee from 2009 to 2019.