Last week, the Massachusetts commissioner of elementary and secondary education released the state’s initial guidelines for reopening schools in the fall. And almost immediately, the criticism began pouring in. Tracy O'Connell Novick, a member of the Worcester School Committee, spoke with WGBH News' Aaron Schachter about these new rules, which she said appear to be less a blueprint for reopening and more like wishful thinking. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Tracy Novick O'Connell: I think they were very targeted at getting kids back into the building. Honestly, [it is] kind of gonna make planning complicated. They clearly were so bent on that, and all of our planning is supposed to be focused on that, even though we need to come up with three different plans, that I'm afraid that it's actually going to make things more complicated for us, rather than easier.

Schachter: So tell me, what are some of the moving parts that you have to juggle when deciding what school should look like in the fall?

Novick O'Connell: The state is very much pushing putting all kids back into the buildings, or as many kids as possible back into the buildings. The state has some information in the guidance, which talks about utilizing extra spaces that they have available — libraries, auditoriums and so forth. But in districts like Worcester, we already are using those spaces as classroom space in many cases. And I've talked to colleagues in Chelsea and in some of the other communities that look like Worcester that already are essentially kind of maxed out in terms of their school buildings. The state did put some guidance in there that really pulls back from what we've seen as the scientific consensus around six feet, to three feet, which I know is very concerning to me. It feels as though we're kind of walking this line of pushing to make things work rather than necessarily going with what's safe. But even with that, I don't think that we sort of geometrically have the space that we need in order to actually get the children that we have back into the buildings that we have.

Schachter: Another aspect of this, of course, is that virtual schooling will continue in some form or other, it seems. How did Worcester do with online learning this spring, and what might need to change for that to happen in the fall?

Novick O'Connell: I think it's actually honestly part of what has made the push towards having kids back in buildings, because remote schooling was so hard for so many districts. And certainly my district is among them. Worcester doesn't have a one-to-one program. We didn't actually have students who had devices. We didn't have enough devices for students. There was a pretty significant delay in getting devices to students. And like a lot of other districts, we have a lot of students who don't have Internet at home, who have other kinds of complications that make it very hard for them to do remote schooling. So those are all things that we certainly were coping with across the spring. And some of those complications have been somewhat mitigated. We've gotten devices to students. People have worked on getting hot spots to students. But a lot of the inequities that are kind of built into that still remain, in terms of what kind of spaces students have for studying, what kinds of family tensions and family complications there may be for them and all of those kinds of things.

Schachter: Now, another of the big problems, of course, for parents — and this also gets at the equity question — is childcare. And this is an issue all over the state, of course. Is there any way that the Worcester school system can help with that?

Novick O'Connell: It's hard to see how. I mean, particularly since I think we're probably realistically going to end up with some sort of a hybrid model at best, where you're not talking about every student every day going into a school building. That's hugely complicated if you're a parent — particularly who works in a way that has to be out of the home. The problem, of course, is that we probably don't even have enough space to get all of our kids back into buildings at all. It isn't as though we have extra space available for childcare. I would assume that all of the complications of having students back in the classroom would apply to childcare as well. Honestly, one of my frustrations throughout all of the pandemic has been that we tend to see education as sort of this isolated thing rather than part of a larger ecosystem. And this really feels like that. It feels like we're sort of plugging that K-12 hole rather than thinking about all that surrounds K-12 schooling.

Schachter: And how about the issue of transportation? I imagine there are a lot of busses moving around Worcester and this is going to be a logistical nightmare.

Novick O'Connell: I was really looking for the transportation guidances, but we were told that transportation guidance will be coming later. The logistics of taking, you know, a bus that holds, you know, 66 kids that in many cases would be full or close to full and instead being able to only hold 10 or 12 kids safely — which makes sense — is essentially a nightmare. And you're getting that on top of not just a local, but a national shortage of school bus drivers. And also there just physically aren't that many more school busses. It takes six months to build a school bus. So it isn't as though we can actually put that many more busses on the road either. And certainly if you take that and then apply it to things like special education busses, which are smaller, presumably we can't put that many students on a special education bus either, and that really becomes a really, really complicated process. As it is, Worcester is sort of constantly redrawing transportation routes. And not having this kind of planning time for transportation is really, really complicated.