As high school seniors across the state celebrate graduations remotely, educators are planning for another unconventional school year. Boston Public School Superintendent Brenda Casellius spoke with WGBH Morning Edition Host Joe Mathieu about district's plans for the coming year, the state guidance on reopening schools and her insights into the social unrest that has swept the nation since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. The transcript below was edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: I know that high school grads were robbed of their proms and graduations, but are you confident that after spending the second half of the year teaching remotely that they're ready for what's next?

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius: Well, you can never be fully confident, right? But I am, I do feel pretty proud of this group and their resiliency. They are bright and strong, and just really, really resilient. And I've seen great work come out of the students. And, you know, there are some students who did not engage as well as we would like them to have, and some students who had to actually work during this time to help their family out. So, you know, we're gonna do everything we can to make sure that they are ready for that next stage, that's for sure, with our summer school program.

Mathieu: I know you're offering summer learning opportunities for students who have fallen behind or completely fallen off, to your point. Do you have a sense of how many students you may have lost in the transition?

Cassellius: Well, we know that we've written plans for 15,000 students who, you know, are either struggling, were struggling before COVID, or are struggling now, or their family might be having some difficulty with homelessness or with some sort of other struggle. And, you know, we know that we'll be able to reach out to those families, and hopefully they'll engage with us this summer.

Mathieu: I wonder about the guidance that we saw come out from the state a couple of days ago that will be used for reopening schools safely. It may include, as we've been reporting, a gallon of hand sanitizer per classroom per week, 10 students per classroom, six feet of distance. The question ringing around the state, though, is how do you do all that?

Cassellius: Well, we've been working nonstop around the clock to look at all of the logistics, from transportation — limiting students to six feet apart in a school bus — obviously, you remember what a school bus was like when we were little, and how many students there are in those. So that is a huge barrier for us, as well as the social distancing that has to happen in classrooms. ... But what I do know from the guidance is that it does evolve quite regularly as they look at the CDC guidance and at the federal guidance, as well as what our health professionals are telling us it's safe. And so as we watch those numbers and as we get that in, we adjust our plan, which also makes it very difficult because we're planning for multiple scenarios, as you can imagine.

Mathieu: I'm sure that's true.

Cassellius: And it is incredibly expensive.

Mathieu: The planning aspect is, you mean?

Cassellius: No, the planning, you know, we have folks planning because they're still working, but just the protective equipment that you have to have, the handwashing, the adjusting of sinks and desks and the ratios of our students that can be together, the cleaning supplies, all of that is quite expensive.

Mathieu: Well, that's a concern. And the student-to-teacher ratio, I'm guessing, out of all of that is the most expensive. Is that even feasible? And are you hearing reaction from teachers on this?

Cassellius: Well, I think the way that we schedule students would be something that we would be working with. Certainly teachers would love lower class sizes. But I think that's a very difficult thing, is that we will probably have to do some sort of scheduling changes for our students, as well as how we think about how many students can be in the classroom, how many teachers we would need for that, are our school buildings big enough to handle, and do we have enough classrooms if we, you know, essentially cut our classes and half in terms of their size? And so, a number of things to think about as we begin to think about reopening. Because we certainly want to be sure that, one, it's safe — that's our number one top priority. Two, that the teachers are able to teach both remotely and within the classroom if needed. And then three, ensuring that we have the proper supply for all of the cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, et cetera.

Mathieu: We're talking with Boston Public School Superintendent Brenda Casellius on WGBH's Morning Edition. And I'm sure we're going to be talking about these plans as they continue to evolve. There have been a lot of questions about not just money, but also how to keep teachers on board. There are some school districts laying off the superintendent. Are you worried about that?

Cassellius: Well, we haven't been just yet. So that's not in our game plan right now to lay off teachers.

Mathieu: It's not?

Cassellius: No, Boston Public School does not have that right now.

Mathieu: You know, it's not lost on us that before you came to Boston that you were an assistant superintendent of schools in Minneapolis. And I wonder if you have any thoughts about your former city that has been rocked by the death of George Floyd and has still not recovered?

Cassellius: Yeah, so I was eight years as the state commissioner of education, but I also lived in Minneapolis and I also worked in Minneapolis as an educator. So, yeah, it is very devastating. And I know we put him to rest yesterday and he had his homegoing with his family. And that was quite emotional for so many across the nation as we grapple with really the racist policies and the inequities within our systems — not only our school systems, our policing systems, but really throughout our nation. And it's just, this is a quite a challenging time for us, but also a hopeful time and opportunity for us to have some real conversations and action to fix this inequity.

You know, in Boston, when I came, one of the first statistics that I heard about was the wealth gap between black people, who I think were making somewhere around $8, had $8 of wealth and white families who had somewhere upwards of $200,000 plus of wealth or something like that. And that's just quite a difference. And so if we really want to impact that and truly say that black lives do matter, I think it is important then that we look deeply at the systemic nature of some of our policies and practices.

Mathieu: Are you worried about your former students?

Cassellius: Of course, I'm absolutely worried about my students and not only the emotional and mental impact of what's going on now, but their own sense of self-identity and their own sense of self-worth and then just really wanting to make sure we put in place the things that need to be put in place and that there's enough resources so that they get a proper, and excellent education, because that is the way to get a better and happier life, in my opinion.

Cassellius: I grew up in poverty, so, you know, on welfare and lived in public housing for much of my childhood. And I know that getting an education and having proper supports like housing and food security and health access are so important to a child's development.

Mathieu: Well, I really appreciate you answering that. It's something that was on our mind before we spoke with you this morning, and I appreciate your thoughts. It sounds like there's more work to do here in Boston, but you have a lot of perspective coming from Minneapolis and maybe some fresh ideas to fix it. I hope you'll stay in touch with us on that, superintendent.

Cassellius: I absolutely will, it's important. It's important for all of us to know that schools can be a huge help to this nagging problem in our nation. But it's going to take all of us to look deeper inside and to be able to really tackle these issues and be courageous enough to have the conversation, you know, with one another about fairness, around equity and around justice for all of us as a human race and pulling together. So I really appreciate you asking you the question.