Kayley Glavin also contributed to this article.

Over the recent months, students and faculty alike have been voicing their opinions about in-person versus remote learning, and it has brought up many concerns regarding different learning styles for students. On January 10th, the new Malden School Committee held their first meeting of the year, following the 2021 election where they had chosen to announce the committee assignments for the 2022-2024 session. 

In the meeting, Superintendent Ligia Noriega-Murphy started off by sharing all of the different updates that are currently happening around the district through a 40-page report. Mayor Gary Christenson explained that the report was “quite informative, and provided a good snapshot on where we are and where we hope to be going after winter break.” 

Christenson also said that the committee discussed a number of policy changes regarding residency demands to be able to attend Malden Public Schools. This included discussions around what age a child should be able to enter Kindergarten. These proposed policy changes were sent directly to the Policy and Procedures Subcommittee, and until they are fully reviewed, these changes will not be implemented. 

The committee took time to discuss the possibility of hybrid learning in schools during the current state of the pandemic. Christenson expressed that he is glad there is a path being cleared to allow other forms of learning to be possible in the future. Last year, he had spoken to a number of students who had preferred either remote or in-person learning. “What was most interesting is that [the students] were unanimous in supporting one another on the need to have both models available to help [them] maximize their ability to learn,” Christenson explained. He also noted that in-person learning has had a significant difference in students' attendance and overall performance.

Christenson added that he is aware that “no one size fits all” pertaining to learning, and therefore appreciated hearing from the community, especially students. The city has met with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as the State Legislative Delegation, to “come up with a system where [remote learning and in-person learning] can coexist.” Nothing has happened as of now, Christenson expressed. However, he does believe that there is interest from both sides. 

Malden High School senior Juliana Davidson was a student who spoke at the school committee meeting. Previously, she has done work relating to pushing for a remote option in schools across Malden, and spoke about the importance of this issue to various other city officials. During the meeting, she said that an option for remote learning would help Malden Public Schools “manage the current surge in Omicron cases and COVID in general. Many students have families that may be at a higher risk of getting COVID, and some students themselves are in high-risk positions,” she explained. “I feel that a remote learning option would allow for families to make the safest decision altered for them.” 

Davidson noted that Massachusetts currently only has one public online school. “If the Massachusetts Department of Education allowed for remote learning time to count towards the district's required school hours, she feels that “it would alleviate a lot of the stress currently put on families and students.”

As for the foreseeable future, in-person learning is the only available option, so “we have to follow it,” Christenson said. “We plan to stay the course, especially since the state does not allow the option for us to go remote.” Davidson also recognized during the meeting that “many of the decision-making processes students were hoping to see, all seem to be out of the School Committee's hands and/or done elsewhere.” 

Noriega-Murphy expressed at the meeting that as of now, she believed that “[the city] is happy and healthy,” and she doesn't see a reason to go remote. She continued on saying that “we have to be back and adjust to life.” So far, she has seen a 6.1% increase in math grades and a 4% increase in reading, with a 92% attendance rate across the board. 

In response to COVID cases, Noriega-Murphy stated that “in comparison to the other districts, [Malden is] low” and if cases were to rise, she would be advocating for remote learning. She believes that being in school is what makes school special and easier. 

“Being home for young kids is hard. School is an experience. It is not my right to take that away,” Noriega explained. She added that she “loves to see kids having fun” and communicating with peers. She especially knew that after the holidays, Covid cases would be higher, but she was happy to see they have since slowed down and not been overbearing. Whatever motivates one to wear a mask is great because it helps the city prioritize and stabilize in- person learning,” Noriega-Murphy elaborated.

Noriega-Murphy also noted that since Malden is one of the first districts to have been given at-home tests from schools, more information is specified about the “next steps [students] need to take” to make everything safer. She bases everything on data and makes sure to take in account “social and emotional components” concerning students' education. 

Noriega-Murphy had decided to opt out on midterms this year because she wanted students to “focus on celebrations to decrease anxiety.” She did not see a point in giving students more work when they don’t have to. She elaborated saying “I want to see growth in students, not anxiety.” Overall, she wants to work to see how we can end things on “a good note” for everyone's sake.

Overall, Davidson said that she believes the school committee meeting did well “in terms of listening to public comments, addressing general district updates and updating community members on new and past programs offered in the Malden Public Schools District.” The next school committee meeting will be on Monday, February 7th. You can watch the school committee meeting from January 10th below.

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