Minutes – August 20, 2020 – Virtual Meeting (Zoom/Facebook)
BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
August 20, 2020 – 6:00pm
School Committee: S. Bannon, D. Weston, B. Fields, S. Steven, M. Thomas, A. Hutchinson, R. Dohoney, J. St. Peter, D. Singer, A Potter
Administration: P. Dillon, S. Harrison, A. Shaw
Staff/Public: T. Lee, K. Farina, B. Doren, S. Soule
RECORDER NOTE: Meeting attended by recorder and minutes transcribed during the meeting and after the fact from live recording provided by CTSB. Length of meeting: 2 hour, 25 minutes.
CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Steve Bannon called the meeting to order immediately at 6pm.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The listing of agenda items are those reasonably anticipated by the chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed, and other items not listed may be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law. This meeting is being recorded by CTSB, Committee Recorder, members of the public with prior Chair permission and will be broadcast at a later date. Minutes will be transcribed and made public, as well as added to our website, www.bhrsd.org once approved.
Minutes of Meeting:
July 14, 2020
July 30, 2020
August 6, 2020
MOTION TO APPROVE MINUTES OF MEETING DATED JULY 14, 2020, JULY 30, 2020 AND AUGUST 6, 2020 – A. POTTER SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Superintendent’s Report:
- Good News Item(s) – P. Dillon – We wrote a grant last spring around school mental health and we received it. It is a little more than $85,000 to continue to support our ongoing work in collaborative care; that is the partnership with Macony, Fairview and CHP. The other one we received was Lynn Cassella who works at the middle school put together an application to be part of the comprehensive school mental health network. We are one of six districts in the commonwealth to be selected to be part of that. There was an opening kick-off conference on that today. That is connected to a whole national initiative so that is really good work. I am excited and proud of that as well.
- Request to Waive Timeline: Cooperative Contract for Support Staff-Article XI- Retirement: Dillon – This is something the school committee has done before and occasionally we have people retire and in the custodians’ contract there is a 90 day requirement which enables them to receive some sick day buybacks. One of our custodians that has been with us for 15 years, Jerry Curtin, who has done a very good job, is requesting that we waive that timeline. It has Steve Soule’s recommendation and mine. I would like a motion from the school committee to waive the 90 timeline in regards to Jerry Curtin’s retirement. I would like to thank him for his 15 years of service. MOTION TO WAIVE THE 90 TIMELINE TO RECEIVE SICK DAY BUYBACKS – A. POTTER SECONDED: B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- COVID-19 Reopening Plan(s) – P. Dillon – maybe the silver lining of this virus is civic engagement. It is great that we have several hundred people in these meetings. We will talk about COVID 19 and our reopening plans. For some of you, this is your first time tuning in and others of you have been along for the whole conversation and the whole ride. What I thought I would do is take a couple of minutes to frame what is going on and to frame a couple of decision points then it is my understanding that Steve will open the meeting up for additional public comments and then the school committee will have some discussion and perhaps take some action. Is that a fair way to frame it Steve? Bannon – absolutely. P. Dillon – many of you have heard me say this before, in response to this the Governor and the Commissioner asked us to do four things. To look at the advantages and disadvantages of face-to-face plan, a hybrid plan and remote plan. We have done that; we have analysed it, talked about it. We got feedback and more and more feedback, we negotiated around some of it and we are trying to come up with a plan to move forward. Many of you know the school year is going to be a little shorter; from 180 days to 170 days. We are starting with staff this coming Wednesday with 11 days of professional development and then school for students is starting on September 14th. What we have been discussing is how we start school on September 14th and what that looks like and how we transition to other things after September 14th. We will take about that some more but the plan as it stands now, we starts on September 14th in a remote stance or posture and then several weeks in I am recommending we shift to a hybrid posture, all the while paying close attention to existing state level data and then potentially shift from a hybrid posture to a face-to-face posture if the data gets better. If the data gets worse, then we go the other way. That is the high-level overview. There are all sorts of advantages and disadvantages and starting remotely obviously is very hard on parents, particularly of parents of young children; starting face-to-face is perceived by some, or even a hybrid model, as being a safety issue. There are competing perspectives on this. At our best, and I think we have really done a good job as a district and a community on this, we look at what’s good for kids and good for families and we find that middle ground and more forward there. I hope that is what comes out tonight. It is cliche but it is true, we really are in unprecedented times and this is challenging for everybody. We have been spending an extraordinary amount of time on planning, developing systems and procedures, meeting with people, writing plans and updating plans and every moment we seem to get something going in the right direction to another thing being thrown at us. Yesterday it was announced that all school aged and college aged students have to have mandatory flu shots this year so that created a big stir and conversation. A few minutes before this meeting, the governor and the department of public health announced there would be travelling COVID units that could do quick testing in hot spots in schools as needed. I am imagining giant mobile homes filled with lots of nurses and doctors and laboratory things. So everyday there is something new. The other thing I will mention, we have been in ongoing collaborative conversations with bargaining groups, the teachers and the paraprofessionals and I think we are doing a very good job of listening to each other and looking at problems and trying to work together to solve those problems creatively. That is something that we need to continue to do. In sort of a broader public context, while people can get frustrated about parts of this and may have disagreements, and this is bigger than bargaining, this is everybody, I think we have done a very good job as a community and I am proud of the integrity and capacity of us to engage in meaningful and sometimes challenging meaningful dialogue that is fair and civil. That is an important thing. S. Bannon – I think that sets us up for some public comment and I would ask that you limit your comments to three minutes. I don’t want people to repeat themselves. People who have already spoken can speak again but I am not encouraging it. You have been sending emails and I know the school committee is diligent with all the emails that have come through and that is a lot. I will open it up for public comment at this point. You just need to use the raise your hand feature and I will recognize you one at a time.
- Public Discussion & Comments:
- Neel Webber, 22 Ice Glen Road, Stockbridge – I am a teacher at Monument Mountain High School. I just want to speak in support of, from a teacher’s standpoint, of opening remotely first. My job as a teacher is to primarily teach and I just don’t feel that I am ready to do both. I am being asked to essentially rearrange my curriculum, teach differently and teach on a platform that I haven’t been trained on yet which is a big hurdle. It is doable but I feel it is really important to get a handle on that and if we go remote I will be doing that; we are structured to do that; then navigate how we do a hybrid where we have to really navigate safety protocols and figure out how to manage teenagers and figure out how to keep them and myself safe. I’m basically feeling very strongly going remote first. I will be a better teacher. It will be safer and I think it is dangerous and it would affect my ability to teach well by just jumping as a hybrid September 14th.
- Dan Bouvier – I live in Pittsfield but I have been a teacher at Monument Mountain for the last 21 years. I want to thank all of you for the work you have put into this. It is no easy task. I thank the parents who contributed to the conversation, the emails I have gotten from parents encouraging us to start face-to-face and it is all good will. Every single teacher I know wants to start as soon as possible face-to-face. The question is safety. We want to be safe. That is the two different angles people are looking at. I am going to echo Neel’s comments. I don’t know what the school committee is thinking right now but at this point, we are not ready. There are two many unanswered questions to be able to guarantee the safety of the children and the faculty and staff that are working in the buildings. Those questions have to be answered before we can go back to work. We all want to do it. It is so much easier to have a group of students in front of me than trying to do it remotely. The questions just haven’t been answered yet. I implore you to please consider this safety before you put us into a situation where once COVID gets into the school system, the less we have these things lined up and can control the spread, it will take over. Thank you.
- Roxanne Noble (?) – I am a parent of a soon to be 11th grader at MMRHS. I am probably one of the parents that is asking for kids to go back to school full time. The questions I have are what are you basing the assumption that it is not safe given Governor Baker’s and the map that showed an extremely low case count in Western Massachusetts. What has the school district been doing for the last six months to prepare for reentry. It seems to me that to say now that we are not ready and we need to get ready is kind of ridiculous given that you have had a very long time and very clear direction from the state and the federal government on what needed to be done. I would like to understand the science behind you saying that it is now safe.
- Bannon – we don’t have time to answer that type of a question. The school district has not said it is not safe. That is a public comment. There is no way we will get into that discussion tonight because that could lead to a four or five hour discussion. I will say this…..R. Noble – if you are saying it’s not safe, there has to be some data. S. Bannon – We did not say it was not safe. It was a public comment that said it was not safe. We have never said that. You would have to ask the people who are saying it. As far as what we are doing for the last six months, I can assure you; and it has been less than six months, this school district is working as hard as they have worked to try to get ready. This is still unprecedented. We are going to be ready but there has been a lot of work. If you think the state has given us all the guidance we need, their guidance comes out in dribs and drabs and sometimes, and it happened this week, and Peter can go deeper into it, the school district will work hard on a procedure and then the state this week, with school starting in just a few weeks, will come out with their own procedure without warning us that it was coming out so all the work we had done on our own wasn’t wasted but it could have been better spent somewhere else. We have been putting a lot of work into this. The teachers have been putting a lot of work into this; the paraprofessionals, the maintenance staff… this has been really thoughtful and I don’t want anyone to think that people have just been on vacation for the last three or four months. There has been a ton of work. This is not something we have ever encountered. We are better prepared now than we were when we had two weeks notice but we definitely have worked hard at this. R. Noble – I just wonder if you have given a lot of work and thought to this, it is not being clearly communicated. I don’t think we have a sense of what the year will start as in regards to what remote learning will be like and then the timeframe for when you plan to move to hybrid. It sounds to us, to be honest, I don’t have much trust in the school district at this point given all that has happened that you are just planning two weeks after the school year to say, no we will go remote all year. People are leaving their jobs because of this in order to take care of their kids so I get it that the teachers are stressed but it is also costing people their livelihoods. S. Bannon – we are going to take a clear vote tonight on where we are going. After that you will be getting a lot of information from the school district. I think it is a little premature to say that we haven’t been organized and we have been. You will be getting a lot of information. I promise you that.
- Holly Troiano, 362 North Plain Road, Housatonic – I am a social studies teacher at MMHRS. Rather than repeat what my colleagues have already said, I feel the parent that just spoke makes a good point. It is really unclear how things will function for her 11th grader coming into the school and what the concerns are about safety. I think it is a fair question. I thought possibly a couple of examples might be useful in the context rather than repeating. One of the questions that comes to the forefront is the simple question of how do we deal with letting students use the bathroom. How do we deal with teachers using the bathroom. How do we keep our students safe if a bathroom has to be cleaned after every time someone goes into it before someone else can go in? That is a basic bodily function that is going to happen every day. That is not clear. We don’t have any parameters for that as of yet. Another problem we will have is kids with allergies. Significant numbers of kids in our district have food allergies making it that we had to have food free rooms. An example, I had six students in one class last year with significant food allergies that we had to manage and make sure there was no food coming into the class. Kids couldn’t be finishing up a snack on their way in. How are we going to have kids eating their lunches in the class. Another concern is students with IEPs. How do we serve these students as best we can and many students with IEPs have written into their IEPs that they can leave to let off some steam, they can take a quick lap around the school to kind of settle down and refocus. I don’t know how we are going to serve these students in a safe manner if there is no one readily available to do those kinds of things. These are just three examples of many more of trying to keep our kids safe, keeping ourselves safe and we are just not prepared. We are not there yet. To start remotely and move to a hybrid seems to make the most sense and finally, the science points to the fact that we are going to have a second wave which we haven’t had yet. If we start remotely for a short amount of time we will get kids used to using it, teach them how to use it so when we have to go remote again, we will be prepared. I hope that is helpful to the parents and I am hugely sympathetic having friends and family in the same situation. There is no good answer. Thank you all for your efforts.
- Bob DeVergilio – I am a resident of Monterey with two kids, school choice. I am also a healthcare worker and my biggest concern is regard for testing. Do we have a policy as a district or do we have a protocol if kids are symptomatic, how are we going to get them access to tests. It is not really easy to do even for people having surgery. I am just wondering if we have made arrangements with Fairview or Macony and how we are going to get tests if need be. Dillon – the department of public health guidelines are very clear about it. The first thing is somebody is symptomatic. You get them out of the building then they start the quarantine. The hope would be rather than doing the whole 14 day quarantine, they get tested first. I will put the guidance up on our website tomorrow or Monday so you can see. There is a whole set of protocols. It has been my experience and maybe mine is unusual but earlier on, at the beginning of it and in the middle, I was tested several times. They all came back negative and it was relatively easy for me to get tested.
- Joe Rolland/Emily DeVoti, 37 Cottage Street, Great Barrington – we have an eight year old going into 2nd grade at Muddy Brook and I would like to say that I appreciate the comments from everyone and particularly the teachers and I think that we have heard from the teachers and my understanding is that the union organization that represents them that they made it clear that they are not on a whole comfortable with going back. I feel we need to honor that because if they are in a place that they are not feeling safe, I don’t feel they will be providing the best education to our children anyway. If there is professional development going on and if that can work for us, then I think we need to do that. I appreciate the fact that people are concerned about their employment, their jobs and I know it is a hardship. It is going to be a hardship no matter what and I think we have to choose the lesser of two evils. There is no data because there is no testing but by the time you have the data, it is going to be too late. There may be no students who have the virus. Nobody may be walking around with it but we don’t know that. There may be ten people, ten students that go to the elementary or high school that have it. If that is the case, it is too late. I think we really need to air on the side of caution here. Respect what we are hearing from our teachers and maybe think of other ways as a community to provide support for those parents that are really in need. That might be another meeting or organization but I think as a community we might be able to come together and offer some support to other parents that are struggling and in the meantime I think we have to honor what we are hearing from the people who are charged with educating our children. If they don’t feel safe, why do we assume our children are going to be safe? I think it is just the prudent thing to do, to start remote learning.
- Arielle Pink – I have three kids in Muddy Brook and I am a special education teacher at MMHRS. I just wanted to share with everyone the reasons why I am not going to send one of my children back and maybe on behalf of other parents who have the same concerns. I have a six year old child with special needs who has a lot of trouble controlling impulses, staying still, has a really hard time following rules in the building even under the best circumstances. I fear for his safety in a rushed hybrid situation. When teachers say they are not prepared, I am not sure why we wouldn’t want to hear that because it is for the safety of the children. I worry about the self esteem and self worth of my child who will be told no infinitely more times in a day than he would have before. No touching, no taking off the mask. This is a child who comes home already when he can’t follow the rules and says, my brain told me not to but my body made me do it. When he is so heartbroken that he couldn’t follow the rules, I just think academic skills can be recovered or be creatively addressed but these traumas of that type of experience can be long lasting. I would want to protect my child from that and anybody else. Returning into the school building is returning into a familiar place but a sterile environment that may almost look unrecognizable and we really need to think about the way we bring our kids in and the way we prepare them. Can they see videos of their classroom before they go in; learn about the rules before they enter the building? I think there are a lot of expectations placed on children in order to follow these types of rules. If teachers and people working in the buildings don’t even know what they are yet on August 20th, and they change on a regular basis, how can we expect kids to know and understand and adhere to these rules. I believe in science and I believe that our transmission rate is low and I believe that in a controlled environment, hybrid options would be safe tomorrow but schools are not that environment and we can’t just snap and they become. I think that there are parents of kids like mine who have similar concerns.
- Steven (?) – I have an 8th grader from Monument Valley going into the high school. One of the things that is critical for us is high school is the foundation, getting into college and onto life. These conversations are a big piece of our families right now. I think what I would like to understand is that looking at the statewide metrics, Berkshire County is a very low risk area compared to the rest of the state so given what is at stake is our children and moving to the next level of their lives, why would be even be considering a model that doesn’t include in-class teaching given where we are with the rest of the state. It is really difficult to move past.
- Bob Redpath, Castle Hill Avenue, Great Barrington – I want to thank everyone for their work and time in this process. It isn’t any easy situation for anyone right now. There is a lot of work that has been done and I would just encourage that there be someplace a parent can go look, on the website or some area that has all this information, policies and procedures, if there is one place we can go to see what work has been done, what decisions have been made and some of the efforts that have been done. I think that would alleviate some concerns. I think at the last meeting, there was a discussion of what data would trigger decisions, whether we open, whether we close, half and half; whatever those metrics are. I would be interested to know what the process is around that and when those decisions are made given the metrics and Governor’s Bakers guidance, if that can be written down somewhere so we can know and be guessing. There has also been some recent guidance around school sports from MIAA so if there is any more information around sports and extracurricular activities that would be great to hear. Bannon – we will be discussing sports when the school committee gets to their discussion point. P. Dillon – the encouragement around us getting clear stuff up on the website and fully articulating the metrics is well said. Stay tuned, it will be up there shortly.
- Fran Lartegue, Canaan Southfield Road, New Marlborough – I have three children in the district, two at Muddy Brook and one at the middle school. One issue that came up in the spring around equity and internet access and it prevented synchronous learning access. I’ve heard synchronous learning thrown around that it has a way to create robust instruction for online learning and the thing is there is still an equity issue in terms of internet access whereas I know in district, all three of your towns are eligible for higher speed but you have plenty of other individuals who can’t afford or don’t have access to the internet bandwidth needed to so synchronous learning so I am wondering how that equity issue is being dealt with, thought about, planned for as we move forward because either remote or hybrid involves online learning. Dillon – One of the issues and you probably understand it more than I do living where you are is the typical solution to somebody having bad internet access or lack of access, would be some sort of remote hotspot but the double whammy is most of the places where that is the case, the remote hotspot is tied to a strong cell signal and that is not an option either. Hotspots don’t solve the problem, it is a fundamental infrastructure problem. As we have been planning around this, there’s a strong possibility that when we get into hybrid models, that we may be able to create some spaces whether within the schools or in other community organizations where people with limited connectivity or none, could go and do their work in another place that has better connectivity. That is where we are focusing our attention. The technological solution cannot be a quick one, it is a longer one about running cable and all the towns are involved in that but that could be months if noy years out.
- John Broderick – 4th grade teacher at Muddy Brook. I might be out of order with many of my peers and might be a minority voice for some of the teachers. There are several teachers, myself included that think the schools need to open even in a hybrid fashion. The students are hurting, families are hurting and we have an obligation to them. Education is essential. Teachers are essential workers. There is a way to do it. The risk is extremely low for the virus with a 99% survival rate. It can happen, if there was ever a time for a school district, for teachers to step up, the time is now. I am willing to go there and work for my students and those families that need us, what it will look like, I am not sure but there is a way to do it. We are focusing on everything we can’t do. If we wait to have all the information, if we wait to have all the exact right time to open, it is never going to come. We need to open. The kids need us, I need to be there because teaching young children especially over the internet, it just doesn’t work. Equity is a huge word in our district. Families that can are getting tutors or possibly send their kids to other schools that are open. We are going to have a generation of kids that are being raised in fear, the education is being denied to them and they are going to suffer for it and the repercussions for this could have life long lasting effects. We need to open. We can do it. We can. Not perfect, nothing is perfect. I am willing to take a chance. I think the kids are worth it. I think our community is worth it. We need to open.
- Brian Grossman, 10 Brainard Avenue, Great Barrington – I have three kids at MMHRS. Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to dozens of parents and I will put the sentiment very clearly; we are frustrated, very frustrated. The reason we are frustrated is we see that there is a lack of urgency, a lack of clarity and what we are hearing is delay, delay, delay. No where has the teachers’ union articulated any concrete plan or metrics about exactly when we are reopening. In fact, we have heard from them that one case of COVID is too many. The major point that I want to make is this, we are six months into this crisis, six months without school. Our kids are not safe without school. Our kids are not healthy without school. This is what we know: distance learning is inferior to in-person learning even with people who know how to do it. We are dreadfully unprepared to implement distance learning solutions on the training side. The level of instruction that will take place if we go to a distance learning model will only have a small fraction of time everyday where kids are learning in class, a little over to 2-2 ½ hours a day. The lack of social contact is extremely detrimental to students. There are a number of studies around this. This is why kids go to school. Equity issues are dramatically exacerbated by a distance learning model. They are being killed by this. Special needs kids are being killed by this. The CDC is telling us that other symptons like depression, suicide, child abuse are way up with the distrance learning model. We have relied on the State of Massachusetts for the state to make decisions for us on the public health side and they have been by in large very conservative on this. We have relied on them for reopening plans. We rely on them for what happens when you leave the state. You have to come back with a negative COVID test. They have spent hours figuring this out and they have made clear recommendations. They have told us that it is safe to reopen (inaudible) we are in Great Barrington and this school district (inaudible) so when the school committee makes a decision, I implore the school committee to make a decision to not only act here but give us answers. If the school committee actually decides to relay the reopening, it is incumbent on the school committee to tell us exactly how and when it will reopen in-person because it is doing an enormous amount of damage to kids.
- Aria Grossman – I am a student at MMHRS, I want to say that the mental health impacts to students really has to be considered. The pandemic has been a really difficult time for many students and we need the structure and social connection that school provides us now more than even. I have talked to many of my peers and students are really eager to go back to school in person.
- Katie Murray – we live in Sandisfield. My two oldest are in the district and my 8th grader is incoming this year. Thank you to everyone who is working hard on this. There is no easy answer to this in my opinion. Thank you for all the other comments. I wanted to piggyback on the connectivity issues. We have a major connectivity issue in Sandisfield; I’m not even sure you can hear me now. We have the fastest internet speed available and there is no way we can do synchronous learning with three of my children at the same time. It just wouldn’t work. My question to the committee is, we have always followed all the deadlines but if parents decide this is an evolving situation, if I decided that my children were suffering academically, I would homeschool them. I just want to make sure the deadlines are going to be flexible so parents are given time to decide what is best at that point. I would also like to know if there is going to be an option regardless of what decision is made tonight and if things change again, if parents will have a third option of being able to continue with distance learning if they feel it is working better. So if there are deadlines for homeschooling and it is guaranteed by the state that we would have an option to do that if a connectivity issue becomes detrimental to their academic life. Dillon – the homeschooling thing is a complicated one. I have shared this a couple of times. Anybody can choose to homeschool at any time and if you submit a plan, the principal and I would review it and approve it. The problem around homeschooling is twofold. There is a problem to the parents potentially and a problem to the district. If the student choices in from a town that is not one of our three towns and you choose to homeschool your kid, you are giving up your choice seat and you have to re-enter the lottery for when you want to come back so that could be problematic. If you are an in-district student and you choose to homeschool, you can do that and you are not giving up your seat but there is a financial impact on the district because homeschool students are not counted in our enrollment report. Not really your problem, more my problem but that is another one. No matter what we do, people could be learning in a fully remote way but if you are in a place with terrible or nonexistent internet service it isn’t going to be helpful. If you could figure out some workaround and make that work then you could do a fully remote thing but if you are in a place where you would be dependent on the internet and you can’t get on the internet, then we have to work with you to figure that out. In some places we can and some we can’t. K. Murray – as far as homeschool goes, if they did go back in March would they be, could they stay in the classes they were in initially at the beginning of the year. Would they make that transition back? P. Dillon – if you live outside of the three towns and you decide to actually homeschool your kids, not to do remote learning but to actually homeschool them, then at that point the seats that your kids have, somebody else might have applied and taken them. There is a question as to whether they could come back. If they did come back could they pick up where they were? Yes, from a participation thing. If you were in a very rigorous AP class and you stopped doing it for three months and then you wanted to step back in, unless you had extraordinary self discipline and focus, that would be a hard transition to do. People could do it but it would be a challenging one.
- Rebecca Keane, 1305 Swamp Road, Richmond – I have two kids at MMHRS. I am in support of opening the school in some manner and let me give you a little bit of background. I am a practicing physician of almost 20 years in Pittsfield, general internist and what I have been hearing from mainly the teachers who are fearful about returning is we are making decisions out of fear. Believe me, my job was pretty scary back in March, April, May. I think it is important to keep things in perspective. In the last two weeks we have done well over 4,000 tests just in Berkshire County. Our positivity rate in the last two weeks is less than 0.3%. In the two months before that our positivity rate was hovering around 0.5% so that is well below the numbers that are considered good control. I think one of the most important points to make about that is in the last two months, and I have spoken with the people who are doing contact tracing, our cases in the county are coming from two sources. They are coming from people who are travelling outside the county and they are coming from people who had known exposure to a person who tested positive. We have not been seeing community spread in Berkshire County for over two months. I would support a no-travel pledge for all of our staff, students and families because I think if we can keep people, and I hate this insular mentality but I think under the circumstances we need it. I am sure you know that BMC recently changed its policy for travel so if one of our staff members travel, they are going to be fired because they are required to quarantine. That if we require something similar for our school community, that if you choose to travel for whatever reason, you are not allowed back in the school building for two weeks, whether you are a student or a parent, custodian or teacher. That would help reduce the spread just because we wouldn’t be bringing it into the community. That would be huge. We are not seeing those random people walking around not knowing they had it. He has not been seeing that in Berkshire County for over two months. I see no reason to go remote first with the intent to switch to a hybrid. I think it makes much more sense for us to start in person whether in hybrid or full open because I think a lot of the fear is coming from what we do if somebody tests positive in the school when the reality is the likelihood of that happening at this point as long as nobody is travelling is extremely low.
- Steven Boyd, West Stockbridge – thank you for your work. My daughter is a junior at MMHRS. We have a son who will be a freshman next year. I run a medical device company in Lee called Boyd Technologies and I am a member of Governor Baker’s emergency response team and we have been running an essential business since mid-March. I want to say I know what it is like and echo Dr. Kane’s around the fear. I know what it feels like to have the ground shift underneath you and to have to go to work where hundreds of people filter through it every single day. I can relate to being scared about surfaces in bathrooms or think about what things might be superspreaders and what are not. My customers are supporting over 300 different vaccine trials and what they tell me if that we are a year away from any new normal so as we think about trying to grab a hold of more science I think it is important to think about the period of time, the hybrid period of time that we are in as a community and thinking about having to dig deep for our children. I am asking the school committee and the teachers to please come back to work. You are essential. You are essential to our children. I am asking for you to make a few face-to-face deposits in their future and their education. If we do have to go remote we can do it very quickly. We have managed this infection rate in the Berkshires. Consider how quickly we were able to respond and flatten the curve. We will certainly have more onset in any doomsday scenario we can imagine now. I think coming back and building a plan in person, makes tremendous sense given just looking at this meeting alone and how challenging virtual or remote meeting and consensus building is. It does not and has not gone well so come back even if for a short period. Maybe it can be longer, maybe we can improve. Come back to make that plan together with our children. If you try to do this remotely there will be an education gap that our children will face for years to come, far beyond any greater impact that we may be feeling from the unknown right now. We have done this well. We can do this. We have to try. We have to shift. I know that is different from what you signed up for but we need you to come dig deep and come back to work for our children. I am asking you to try. I am asking you about the one generative question I think probably gets you out of bed every single day. What is best for the children? Thank you.
- Margaret (?) – I am a Lee resident but I am a special education teacher at MMHRS. I would like to start by saying that distance learning was terrible and I work with the population of students who probably had the greatest challenge navigating distance learning and had the worst outcomes as a result. With that being said, I think the lack of clarity on how to move forward is reflective of the disconnect between the science being presented by the CDC and some of the perspectives from parents and other community stakeholders in this meeting and the day to day operations of a school building. I think any teacher or paraprofessional would tell you that although in theory, yes, we can follow CDC guidelines and one student can be in a bathroom at a time, the reality is with current staff that is just not manageable. Who is supervising the bathroom, who is making sure only one student is in the bathroom at a time, who is cleaning the bathroom in between each use? I can’t speak to the elementary school or the middle school but the physical condition of the high school specifically in regards to ventilation and cleanliness is lacking. It was lacking before COVID and it will be more sorely lacking now when ventilation is extremely important. I have heard several parents mention the social/emotional impact of distance learning and while I don’t disagree isolation has taken a serious toll on our students, I would like to remind you that the learning we are returning to is not business as usual. There will be no group work. There will be no students sitting together collaborating. Students will be six feet apart, they will have dividers in between them and they will be wearing masks and that environment is traumatic as well. While I am anxious to get back to school, I miss my students and I miss my colleagues and my job, we don’t have enough clarity on how we are going to implement these guidelines to consider bringing students back into the building on September 14th. When we consider what is a stake in terms of continuing education, college and career, I think the more immediate concern is what is at stake concerning safety. It only takes one student to shut a school down for eight weeks, three months. It is happening in schools across the county where one kid comes in having tested positive, the parents didn’t keep them home and that’s it.
- Joshua Briggs, 13 Main Road, Tryingham – I have one student in the middle school and two in the elementary school. What I would really like to hear from the school committee and the administration in terms of what we are looking at, what additional plans for parent engagement and support. Either in a remote or hybrid model at this point, your looking at the very least all of these parents as co-teachers and I think probably a lot of the anxiety that is being felt besides all of the reasons why remote learning is extremely difficult for working parents is the idea that in less than a month all of these parents have been hired for a new job that they have not been trained for, that they don’t have the background in and I would be very curious to hear whether you have additional supports for parent engagement and support to help parents if they are going to be in their homes supporting student learning, taking on certain homeschool duties even if they are still enrolled, what the district is planning to do to support those parents so their students can be successful if we are this situation. Dillon – that is something we have been thinking a lot about. We are using the next 11 days with staff to train and support them on the new learning management system and then part of that is then to turn that around and train and support students and parents on it. We have a lot of work to do and it’s challenging and certainly very hard. I would like to think that the structures we are setting up will be markedly different than what we pulled together quickly in the spring and in that context parents will be much more successful. We are also having conversations with several community partners around a range of possibilities and I think some of those possibilities will become widely public in the next few weeks. It is on our radar. We are thinking about it alot and it is an important thing to flag.
- Emily Boino, 1 North Housatonic Court, Stockbridge – I want to say thank you to everybody who has been working hard and all the teachers. My kids have started playing sports; I have seen kids in daycare and I was really hoping that kids were going to at least be somewhat in school, maybe not completely in person but at least somewhat in a school. I have two at Monument Valley and one at Muddy Brook and even though they did the work, they learned absolutely nothing. I work at Berkshire Meadows and I am going into the nursing program at BCC and I am really nervous about what this year is going to end up looking like for everybody. I work in the COVID unit at work and I have worked in a regular house with no COVID, with people that don’t social distance, that are not wearing masks, that drool, that sneeze, that spit and have been wearing masks, washing hands and doing everything Governor Baker has put in place for everybody and it seems to be doing great. We have not had any cases since the COVID unit closed. I have been listening to Governor Baker since the beginning and I feel he has really protected us so far so I was really hoping that at least we could go back a couple of days a week for the kids because they definitely did not get much out of remote learning previously. Thank you.
- Josh Pacheco – I am a parent of three students in the district; two at the middle school and one at Muddy Brook. I am also a frontline medical worker; I am an emergency physician here at Fairview Hospital. I just wanted to speak toward those things. I realize this is scary for the teachers. I remember when this started in March and April. Going to work was scary at times but we have done a great job as a community, everybody was compliant, socially distanced, we have really gotten this under control. Now to step into work at the ER is actually very comforting. It is nice to get out of the house to do something different, to interact with people and it is so valuable and I will say it feels very safe. We are all wearing masks and such. I feel a similar thing can be achieved at school. With the numbers being as low as they are now and the state effectively saying according to governor Baker’s words because of the low incidence in our community, we are effectively expected to do full-time remote or the very least hybrid. I feel we need to move toward that and I don’t want to get too much into specifics about it but cases are really low and I know we are worried about if students cross each other’s paths but if you take a number that is already small and multiply by the transmission rate, it is extremely unlikely that if one or two students had it, that it would even get to a school wide spread. We have very good testing here in Berkshire County; you can just call the Fairview and BMC line. Anybody can get tested at any point in time. It is a drive-through test so if there are any concerns, it can be dealt with pretty readily. I want to echo Dr. Kane’s comments about the family pledge, to say let’s not travel outside the county. Let’s keep to ourselves. If we do that, I realize it is very insulated and like living in a bubble but we could really cut down on the spread and keep our kids safe and teachers safe. That is very important. It sounds like there are some teachers in favor of going back and some who are hesitant to go back, just like there are families that want their children to go back and some that are hesitant, have you thought about dividing the group. If there are teachers who want to teach and people who want to go back, you pair them up. Has that been considered? Dillon – the second one is a complicated one. We have not looked at it based on people’s preferences. We have had people respond if they have a pressing medical need that keeps them from being able to work but we have not looked at it based on preferences. It is an interesting suggestion. My slight fear would be if … the medical needs are straightforward because people are documenting that with a health care provider’s note. If it is just based on preferences, I don’t know if we have the capacity to run a school. I will look at it again and bring it up in our conversations.
- Diane Viggiano, Speech Pathologist residing in Pittsfield – I would like to say as an educator, I know all educators are anxious to be with the kids and we all value education and your children most certainly. As anyone knows, reading different newspapers from different places, we are learning that children can carry the virus, that we have both immunosuppressed students and staff and yes, the incidents in Berkshire County are few lot and they are low because we have followed guidance, we have been socially isolated, we have been wearing masks and limited ourselves to going to the grocery store but we are all anxious to be back and return to life as normal. As one of my colleagues stated, if we do go back, it won’t be normal. The kids aren’t going to be able to play together on the playground, they aren’t going to be able to hug each other, hold hands. Kids can certainly laugh but it will be covered by a mask. I think it is important to know that we will be going to a sterile environment and some of our children who are most in need of being in a normal school day are also some of our most vulnerable to upper respiratory infections, they are confined to wheelchairs, or have other viral issues so I think that we also need to look at the incidents of schools that have opened and have had to shut. Part of the reason we are safe is because we have had strict adherence to guidelines. As much as we all do want to be together and all do want to go back to school as normal, we are in an unprecedented situation. Everyone in education all across the county is in an unprecedented situation. I have a child entering high school and another entering college that the college is going to be entirely remote and I am concerned about a young person having to be entirely remote for a college education and an entering 9th grader being entirely remote and I kind of think of how we can best engage students and families and support each other but I think once we have a spread, there is not a turning back. Even one incidence or fatality is too many. Thank you.
- Mark Sprague, 8 Yale Hill Road, Stockbridge – we have two high schoolers. I want to emphasize a few things. Obviously we are all on this call tonight because we realize what a pillar of society education is. I am a health care worker. I am a surgeon. I deal with risk all the time. We have dealt with this extremely well in Berkshire County. Our numbers, and echo Dr. Pacheco and Dr. Kane, it is extremely safe and we should all be patting ourselves on the back. There is no such thing as zero. We have achieved a safety level because of what we have done so far. We have achieved that safety level which is probably one of the safest counties in the county. We’ve done that by listening to expert recommendations and following guidelines. Why are we going to stop doing that now? Because the excerpt recommendations and guidelines are for us to have in-person learning. The reason we are not is fear and I get that but the numbers are as safe as they are going to be. We have been doing this now for several months in our practice. We have been doing it in the hospital, in the operating room. I think that we should follow the expert recommendations, follow the guidelines like we have been doing, the children of our community need us to do this, we need the teachers to do this and we will be able to do this as long as we work together following the expert recommendations and following the guidelines. We have the monitoring in place; we have the testing in place. There is an abundance of testing taking place in Berkshire County and our positivity rate is extremely low. I have heard some great ideas tonight of no travel pledges, how we can work together to accomplish this but for us to achieve what we have achieved by following the expert recommendations and following the guidelines and then now decide to now follow the expert recommendations and guidelines, seems counterintuitive. I can assure you we are as safe as we are going to be and we should be doing in-person learning. Thank you for your time.
- Morgan Geddes, Stockbridge – I am the mother of 13 year old twins. I am wondering if the school has considered an outdoor style of learning. Based on European models of learning, children learn quite well outdoors and I know weather is a consideration but at the moment in September it is nice in the Berkshires and I think we have to get creative and I know that there are people on both sides of the issue and I understand the fears and concerns and I also understand I support kind of way to getting back to school for the children. Dillon – there is lots of good writing about this. There was stuff in The Times about it and other other places. Lots of progressive groups are talking about it so it is something we are interested in. We are buying two large outdoor tents at each building and they are about the size of a wedding tent. I mentioned earlier the community conversations that are going on with some of our local non-profits, that is a central thought to much of their thinking. We are thinking about it and then as we work with teachers next week and the two weeks after that, I think a range of people will explore that. I have some teachers with very strong education backgrounds who expressed an interest in it and I think it is another tool in our toolbox. You will be hearing more about that soon.
- Heather Decker, State Road, Great Barrington – I am a paraprofessional at Muddy Brook but also a mom in the district. I wanted to focus on three main things I think are important. As somebody who works in the elementary school, I hear people talking about how kids are able to social distance and they can wear masks, etc. but I think we are missing a really big picture at the point, we have to talk about all the way down age 3 and all the way up to 12th grade. What high school students can do and are acceptable for them is going to be a real struggle for the elementary school kids. I think third and fourth kids can handle it. They really start to change around second grade when they get a better concept of the direction that is given, the rules that are expected but you have lower grades that are not even mandating them to wear masks. Everyone is talking about how flat the curve is and we are at a low rate because of the fact we did all these things. We are not even asking kids from 2nd grade down to do those things. Dillon – the school committee actually passed a policy where we are asking everybody in the school to wear masks. H. Decker – that’s great because I work with younger kids. When I sit back and think about what a day is going to be like for them, I don’t understand how we are going to take 3, 4, 5 and 6 year olds and even a few higher levels and we are going to say to them, you can’t play with each other, you can’t go near each other, stay in your corner; we had to strip everything out of the room. Those grades are really meant to learn through socialization so for me as a worker it is a huge concern that will actually not be doing well for their mental state. I know I would not want to be told no, no all day and I feel that may be actually what happens. I am not fearful of going back to work. I am very concerned because the fact is that working in the schools, I know that there are those handful of parents that send their kids in sick over and over again. I really feel the sickness policy is a huge concern for me. I have a husband who is a heart failure patient. I hear all these studies how children are asymptomatic but they can carry and spread it just like an adult. If they are asymptomatic, how are we supposed to know ten of those children won’t get the adults sick? That is a reality. I feel like our numbers are low because people have been doing what they need to do which is self-isolation and as much as I agree being healthy and being able to be full of smiles and see each other through a computer, it is a better way than sitting behind plexiglass and being told they can’t move. I feel that is going to be a really hard thing for kids to do. That is my point as a worker but I am more concerned as a mom. I am a mom first. My daughter is going into 9th grade, I asked her how she felt about returning and her response is I would like to see my friends but I don’t feel like it is a good thing because we can’t hug each other, can’t go near each other, can’t even high five each other and I would rather see them through the computer and feel like I am more at ease with myself. That is just her point of view. My son has a 504, he has focus issues and an autoimmune disease and I really worry, how is his behavior going to play out when he is consistently told he has to sit still or he can’t go near a friend. There are a lot of families and staff with families between all these grades that have health issues. I just really want that to be taken into consideration. S. Bannon – you are over your time.
- Kelly Baxter Smith – I have a rising sophomore. She is a choice student; we are in Sheffield. We have been following the rules and recommendations from the governor and education commissioner and they came out with the color coded map and said anyone in the white and green areas should be going back full time. All of Berkshire County with the exception of one town is in white. How safe do we have to get? If the guidelines are saying all white and green are full time and we are hearing that we might not even go back part time, I am wondering what metrics we are using. Bannon – hopefully we will discuss that when the school committee gets to their discussion.
- Jessica Spear Holmes, 42 Hollenbeck Avenue, Great Barrington – I have three kids in the district. I would like to speak to the idea of trying to get back to school as soon as we can in person. I don’t take the concerns about risk lightly. My husband is a critical care nurse in an urban hospital. He is also immune compromised and we have been thinking about this hard since March. I do think that with levels as low as they are, unless we are deciding we are not going back to school until the whole area is at zero and until this virus has been eradicated, it seems like now is our only chance. Our best chance to get some in person learning while we can. If we all agree that in-person learning is superior to remote learning, I think we should take this chance to be in school while we can know that there is a risk of increased transmission levels and our window of opportunity to be in-person will close. I would like to speak in favor of the opportunity to use outdoor education and even without people who are experienced outdoor educators, simply move classrooms outside and take advantage of the weather while we have it because we know that won’t last. The time that we have where we can take classes outside and learn and while we can keep the windows open is a fleeting time. I speak in support of getting back to in-person learning as soon as we can and not waste this time while we have it.
- Marney Allen (?) – I have several concerns about going back in-person. I live in Pittsfield but I work at MMRHS. There is nothing I would want more than to go back in-person. I agree with everyone saying it is the most effective way to teach students and I am whole-heartedly with that, however, there are too many unknowns for me to feel comfortable going back into school. I say comfortable rather than safe. It is not out of fear that I have these concerns, it is more looking at the infrastructure of our schools. Someone brought up earlier, maybe Holly Troiano, about the bathrooms; we can’t send more than one person into a bathroom at once. Historically, at the high school, bathrooms have been an issue as students tend to crowd. That is one area where we just don’t have answers or a protocol set up, we don’t have enough staff to go in and clean it after each use which makes me very nervous. On top of that we also have staff coming in from outside of the district. We have staff coming from different states. What happens with those staff members coming from New York and Connecticut. Are they still able to come into the building even if they are in a different district and demographic. We just don’t have answers there. We don’t have answers about substitute teachers when people inevitably get COVID-like symptoms and have to quarantine, who is going to be covering those classes on a normal school day? We have a sub shortage to begin with. There are so many unknowns. On top of that, sending students in school and expecting it to be this mental health break. It is not going to be business as usual. There will not be socialization as in normal years. Most of the instruction will be lecture based and very little student collaboration will be possible with the guidelines that have been set up. If we are talking about effectiveness, it is not nearly as effective as being able to typically be in-person if we are trained on how to do remote properly, we can be a lot more effective than we were in the spring. I have too many questions still that were not answers to feel confident about going back in person.
- Glen Chamberlin, New Marlborough – I am a first grade teacher at Muddy Brook. I really appreciate the time and energy from everyone on the school committee and everyone that has been putting in tons of work. I really appreciate hearing from medical professionals tonight and agree that the risk in Berkshire County is really low and I am one of the teachers who, and all the other teachers as well, is very anxious to be back. We made the best of remote learning as we could in the spring in a very tricky situation and we haven’t been in school for a really long time. That is where we do our best work, obviously. No teacher that I have spoken to is saying that they don’t ever want to go back or they are looking for 100% guarantee that no one will get sick. We are not expecting that. Speaking for myself, we are looking for time to be as prepared as possible just like in any other circumstance in teaching. The commissioner saw fit to shorten the year by 10 days to give districts extra time to prepare and I think that goes a long way but I also feel like there are so many logistical details, so many questions that eventually we will have the answers but we are just not there yet. We are asking for a slow approach. I am hearing people say that teachers are operating on fear and I don’t want people to leave her tonight thinking that is the narrative that teachers are operating on irrational fear. We are very informed, very up-to-date on what is happening both nationally and locally and we simply try to be as prepared as possible for an extremely large responsibility.
- Jack Curletti, Grove Street, Housatonic – I have a son entering high school and a daughter in middle school and I teach at the elementary school so I kind of have a dog in the fight here. It is always frazzling for me to follow Glen Chamberlin because he is always so much more eloquent that I am. I will say, it occurs to me that we are doing this approach, I have kids across all buildings and I am in a building and how this one size fits all model work, and I am wondering if there has been any discussion about how to make it not be a one size fits all and each school does something separate. From what we hear on the research, there are different transmission rates between kids and from different age groups and how that will work. The main question I was struck with, when the meeting opened, was what an opening statement on how the meeting needs to run because the governor has said that there can’t be a certain amount of people that meets together and that is why this school committee meeting can’t happen in person. My question is how is it that one size fits all models if we can’t have a meeting anywhere in the state, and if we can go back to school why? If we can’t meet as a group to have a school committee meeting, why can we have all of the kids in every building go back. I hope the school committee thinks that all possibilities are explored, and I know you are, you have been working tirelessly and I appreciate it wholeheartedly. Thank you for that.
- School Committee Discussion:
- Bannon – I really appreciate everyone’s comments. We went about an hour and a half listening to comments; we had 278 people on this Zoom conference so if anyone tells us this community doesn’t care about education, you can use this as an example on how we really do care about education and we really appreciate this; that this many people would be on the call tonight and we find it extremely important to listen to everyone. We as a school committee have set tonight as the night to make some decisions. I think it was last week, someone said to us that we were too fluid. Whatever decision we make tonight, will be based on a metric that will be in the next week or so you will see on the website and that metric will deal with the number of cases. We are always going to be fluid in these unpresented times. Usually how we start the discussion is a motion, a second and then we will have discussion. That motion may or may not get voted on, it may get amended, it may fail. It is the best way for us to discuss things. A. Hutchinson – we have already voted that school will start for the students on September 14th remotely. I now move: MOTION TO START SCHOOL FOR OUR HIGHEST NEEDS STUDENTS IN FACE-TO-FACE MODEL ON SEPTEMBER 28, 202 AND PLAN TO START SCHOOL ON OCTOBER 5, 2020 IN A HYBRID MODEL WITH DATA BEING EVALUATED ON SEPTEMBER 21, 202 AND SEPTEMBER 28, 2020 THROUGH OUR JOINT HEALTH AND WELLNESS COMMITTEE – A. HUTCHINSON SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: PASSED 8:1
- Weston – I have to declare a conflict of interest due to my active negotiating on behalf of the Massachusetts Teachers Association at my workplace so I will not be able to participate in any discussions or votes on this issue. S. Bannon – thank you Dan.
- Dohoney – I just want to point out that I started this journey at the beginning of July in our first meeting talking about how we are going to make the decision and the consensus there and now we have to follow the science and the facts. We have received information from official sources of the state level and many sources at the local level. Every single medical professional who has weighed in on this matter at a local level, at the state level and at the federal level, has directed us to open our schools, therefore I intend to support Anne’s motion because I think that is the best path to doing that as quickly and as safely as possible.
- Bannon – in an ideal world, would I like a different motion? Yes. I think this is the best motion that either pleases or displeases the most majority of people. We have a lot of competing interests here. I know what the medical facts are and I understand those and all things being equal, going to school on September 14th, if we were ready, would be fine with me but we probably won’t be ready. We have been working hard at it and it is amazing the amount of things you have thought of. Many teachers, many paraprofessionals, many members of the school district have pointed out things that they are concerned out and we need to answer all those questions so I think Anne’s motion is as good as we are going to go and once a metric comes out and we meet the metrics, we will be in person. I am also concerned that sometimes during the winter there may be a surge and we will be back in remote learning so the first two weeks being remote gives us good practice because we don’t know where we will be over the winter. I think sometimes a compromise is as good as we are going to get. I think we are a good school district and we need to educate our kids and we will do that.
- St. Peter – I have a question, last week when the state came out, they said that because we have such low rates that we should be opening fully in school, zero remote and not hybrid and in order to not do that the board of health would have to give a reason. Have we talked to the Great Barrington Board of Health because the schools are based in Great Barrington. Has that been put into motion, that process, because we are not following the state guidelines? P. Dillon – I am in an ongoing conversation with them Jason and that is not resolved and I have some more to do there. I also consulted with our attorney. Massachusetts as you know is very much a state of local control so the governor’s stuff is seen as guidance but it is not a mandate so it is my understanding that we have some latitude, or you do as a school committee, to decide what is appropriate to do. I think the agreement we would make is the approach proposed in this motion gets us to the right place and our mitigating circumstance we are challenged around is training and building capacity with both staff, families and kids to do this successfully. J. St. Peter – I also wanted to say that purely looking at the numbers, I really don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t be starting on the 14th. We have over two weeks of the teachers and the faculty and administration, over two weeks of full time meetings to hash out any of the problems or issues that are going on. That is ample enough time. That is also over five weeks that we are not having any in-person learning to start the year when the rates are extremely low and the weather is at its best. That equals over 10% of the 180 day school year. I think we are really throwing away and wasting precious days of in-person schooling during these first five weeks. The first two weeks, we have no control over, that is through the governor, but those following three weeks, we will be ready. I think it is a disservice to the children and I am really worried. These might be the only five weeks that we have when the numbers are low. Hopefully not but this is the part of the year when the kids are making their connections with the teachers. If things do start to go south later on, I am really worried that this could be a completely lost year without those connections being made. I am very concerned about this.
- Fields – voices we haven’t heard tonight are the principals and before I vote and make comments, I would like to hear some views that Tim, Ben and Kristi have about what is being proposed. I know there are lots of concerns on the staff but I would like to hear a little of their input. I have heard input from the teaching staff, community, fellow committee members. I haven’t heard any input from the principals. If they are on, I would like to hear some of what they think about we are talking about. S. Bannon – I will be glad to have brief remarks from all the principals.
- Tim Lee, Principal, Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School – I want to bring the kids back as soon as possible. I want to get them into the building. I really respect what Jason said about the need to build relationships and everything that has been said by people who have been volunteering. My biggest concern is our inability because of the nature of children and what we know about child development for them to get any sort of meaningful learning out of a fully remote learning experience. We can try our best and some students will make gains but in no way is it a replacement for face-to-face learning, the quality face-to-face learning that will take place when students are in the building.
- Ben Doren, Principal, Monument Valley Regional Middle School – I am glad to go behind Tim because he said it best. Let’s get the kids back in the building as soon as we can. I want to make sure it is safe, that we have the right preparation for the educators, that we support the families, that we have the childcare that is necessary to make it all work. It is important that we focus on the relationships that Time said. I think it is really hard to do that in a remote or partial return but we are going to do the best we can with the resources we have.
- Kristi Farina, Principal, Monument Mountain Regional High School – I am happy to follow both of my colleagues. I obviously would like to get all of our children back into the building. I think the best way for students to make connections with their teachers is to see them. I think doing that at the beginning of the school year is important as we don’t know at what point we might have to transition to full remote. That said, I do think the logistics of a high school schedule is the most complicated. Peter Falkowski and I just finished building the schedule today and all of that information is now being entered into PowerSchool. I think there is a lot of work our teachers have to do on the Canvas side and that is not just for the full remote model, that would also be necessary for the hybrid model and I think there is still, at least at the high school level, a lot of logistical things we do need to work out. I am not saying we can’t get it done. I am putting in as many hours as humanly possible to do so and whatever you vote tonight, I will do whatever I have to do to make it work. I want to see the kids in the building, I also want us to do it with some safety protocols and everything necessary in place.
- Fields – I just want to thank the community. I received 30 emails, 17 that want to start remote and 13 that want to fully come back or hybrid so what I heard tonight reflects this little poll I did with the email responses. I tried to reply to almost everyone. I apologize to some of those people who did not hear from me. What I am concerned about is the questions I received from many of the staff members and some community people, I will tell you now, I like what I heard in regards to the motion. I have always been for a phased hybrid. I said that at the beginning of this process in July. I feel that in person is important but not under these circumstances and hybrid to me is the way to go. I do have some concerns about the hybrid that were raised in certain emails to me as to protocols and policies especially will the school committee be voting on a plan policy for testing. Is it going to be a mandatory requirement that all staff and students be tested before coming into the building and something maybe we should talk about. We are talking about pledges tonight. Are pledges legal? They are not binding, we know that. Would they be required in order for a student to come in if they haven’t had a written pledge of non-travel for parents too. My starting date for the hybrid was October 19th. I am a consensus person, I have always tried to work within that and I feel that October 5th would give the staff some answers to the questions I have received one from a teacher at the high school who wants to know about PPE equipment, is it going to be enough; what happens if a student refused to wear a mask, what is the protocol, what is the policy? We are on uncharted grounds so we don’t have policies for certain types of behaviour. Are we going to have temperature checks on the custodians when they come in at the start of their day at 6am. One of my concerns that hasn’t been raised is the school nurse in all three buildings. I am really concerned that the school nurse is going to be handling all of these health issues by herself. I feel that we really have to look at giving help to that school nurse because it is ludacris to me that we will ask one person to make many health decisions along with the decisions that they normally make in a school day. I would certainly hope that the administration addresses this concern that I have. I also have questions about buses and monitors on the buses. I said at the last meeting, we shouldn’t have bus drivers doing checks so therefore there are some things that have to be worked out. I feel this is a reasonable compromise. It does not meet my date but that’s ok. It is at least enough time for some of these questions to come up to the administration and the staff themselves. My position is I will not vote against this motion.
- Bannon – just some housekeeping before people leave, we do have a meeting next Thursday, August 27, 2020. I think this is the best way for us to get information out. We have been meeting every Thursday. The September 3rd meeting will be solely discussing the renaming of the middle school so we will be meeting at 6pm on Zoom on August 27th.
- MOTION PURSUANT TO DESE AND MIAA GUIDANCE AUTHORIZE THE ADMINISTRATION TO ALLOW THE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TO PARTICIPATE IN INTERSCHOLASTIC ATHLETICS PROVIDED THAT THE ATHLETIC ACTIVITIES ARE LOCATED WITHIN THE GEOGRAPHIC BOUNDARIES OF BERKSHIRE COUNTY ONLY DOHONEY SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS VIA ROLL CALL
- Fields – I just want to ask for a point of clarification. Is this going to be regarding the MIAA sports that are allowed to take place in this new directive they issued yesterday in regards to what sports are going to be played now vs another season and another season? R. Dohoney – unfortunately, Bill, I think we are bound by that. Football and a few other sports are not going to be held in the fall. I don’t think we have the authority to do anything different. A. Potter – I am not sure that is a misfortune. P. Dillon – I think the motion is fine. There is the possibility we are going to get additional guidance from the Berkshire County athletic directors, the principals and ultimately the superintendents. I think this is fine but I just want you to be aware that if we get different guidance down the road, you reconsider parts of it in the future. R. Dohoney – to participate in sports is not an administrative decision but a school committee decision. The directive that came out today was if you are in a hybrid and no longer in a full in-person, then you needed school committee approval. That is what we are seeking to give here because we have elected to go to a hybrid. J. St. Peter – I am going to vote for this because I think we want to get these kids in a social setting as soon as we can but for people who say as a school committee you just voted to go full remote until October but now you are allowing sports, isn’t that hypocritical of you and I really don’t have an argument against that except this is what is best for the kids. I also am assuming that we will be looking at this between now and school but the other activities besides athletics, and I know this is purely MIAA but as far as plays go, instruments, which I know there will be a huge difference between brass where you are blowing vs string instruments, but these are all very important extracurricular activities and they will be addressed between now and that start of the school year. S. Bannon – that is a really good point. I think the reason we are taking this up early is because of the ruling yesterday and as Rich pointed out we need to give our blessing for this to move ahead. P. Dillon – the athletics thing is important because it is in relationship to other schools. Most of the other extracurricular activities, music, drama, etc. are really within our own school.
- Sub-Committee Reports:
- Policy – New Policy 1st Reading; Policy EBCF-Face Covering – S. Bannon – we are now in a 60-day policy that was approved a few weeks ago. This will be a permanent policy and it needs two readings. This is the first reading. If someone would volunteer to read this because I feel it is important that people know what this says.
The Berkshire Hills Regional School District is committed to providing a safe environment as schools reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to public health experts, one of the best ways to stop the spread of coronavirus and to keep members of our school community safe is the use of face masks or face coverings. Therefore, in accordance with guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), the following requirements are in place until further notice.
A face covering that covers the nose and mouth must be worn by all individuals (ie: staff, students, parents, contractors, etc.) in school buildings, on school grounds and on school transportation, even when social distancing is observed.
Individuals may be excused from the requirement for the following list of reasons, per CDC guidance:
- has trouble breathing;
- is unconscious;
- in incapacitated;
- cannot remove the mask or face covering without assistance.
In addition, masks or face coverings will not be required for anyone who has a medical, behavioral or other challenge making it unsafe to wear a face mask or face covering. A written note from a physician is required for a requested exemption. Parents may not excuse their child from the face mask requirement by signing a waiver.
Additionally, face masks or face coverings will not be required when appropriate social distancing is enforced:
- during mask breaks;
- while eating or drinking;
- during physical education classes
- while outside.
Exceptions to this policy under certain circumstances, such as for students with medical, behavioral or other challenges who are unable to wear masks, must be approved by the building principal in consultation with the school nurse or local Board of Health. Face shields or physical barriers may provide an alternative in some instances.
A student’s mask or face covering is to be provided by the student’s family. Staff members are responsible for providing their own face coverings. However, the district will supply disposable face covering for individuals who arrive at a building, or board school transportation, without one.
If students are in violation of this policy, the building principal will consult with the parent/guardians to determine whether an exception is appropriate, or the student may be removed from the school building for in-person learning until such time as they can comply with the requirement or the requirement is lifted.
Violations of this policy by staff will be handled in the same manner as other violations of School Committee policy.
Visitors in violation of this policy will be denied entry to the school/district facility.
This policy will remain in place until rescinded by the School Committee.
B Fields – I would like to ask a question because I see a contradiction. A face covering that covers the nose and mouth must be worn by all individuals (ie: staff, students, parents, contractors, etc.) in school buildings, on school grounds and on school transportation, even when social distancing is observed. Then go down to additionally, face masks or face coverings will not be required when appropriate social distancing is enforced the fourth bullet says while outside while outside. Above we are saying on the grounds they have to wear it, well on school grounds is outside. S. Bannon – on school grounds outside you are socially distanced. B. Fields – it says even when social distancing is observed. Maybe I am missing something. S. Bannon – you read it more carefully and clearer than I did. B. Field – so we should strike “while outside” P. Dillon – I agree. S. Bannon – Peter, we talked about this in other places, and I realize this is MAFC but are we clear on what a legal appropriate face covering is? P. Dillon – This is interesting because in putting together stuff for staff, we just noted that. The big thing that we don’t want people wearing are bandanas or neck gaiters. I am sad about the neck gators because I actually like those. They are easy and convenient. Those aren’t great. I think we have to clarify that. We can’t be exhaustive and clarify everything but we could amend it slightly to say neck gaiter, bandanas and something else. S. Bannon – you could always use some sort of disclaimer that any mask that is not approved by the school principal, etc. Ok, that will come back next week for a final reading and will be in effect once it is voted on.
- Building & Grounds – N/A
- Superintendent’s Evaluation & Advisory – N/A
- Technology – N/A
- Finance – N/A
- District Consolidation & Sharing – N/A
- Personnel Report
- Business Operation:
- Requested Vote: Flexible Spending Plan – S. Harrison – we work with Horace Mann to contract with our FSA claims manager and they have changed from PayFlex to HealthWorks and as a matter of housekeeping we just need to update our plan and have it signed off before we can do that. We need have the school committee authorize Peter to be able to sign on behalf of the school district and if we could have a motion on that. MOTON THAT THE FORMER PLAN AND THE HEALTH FLEXIBLE SPENDING ACCOUNT AND DEPENDENT CARE FLEXIBLE SPENDING ACCOUNT EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2020 PRESENTED TO THIS MEETING IS HEREBY APPROVED AND ADOPTED AND HAVE THE SUPERINTENDENT BE AUTHORIZED AND DIRECTED TO EXECUTE AND DELIVER TO THE ADMINISTRATOR OF THE PLAN ONE OR MORE COUNTER PARTS OF THE PLAN – R. DOHONEY SECONDED: POTTER ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS VIA ROLL CALL
- 4th Quarter Transfer & Overview Report – S. Harrison – Due to technical difficulties including loss of power a couple of days in Stockbridge I was not able to do that so I will come back at another meeting with that.
- Update: E&D Projection – S. Harrison – this is just a rough projection. Right now based on any additional revenue we received and expenses less what we have encumbered going into FY21, I am projecting that our E&D will be about $800,000. In addition to that, I did want to bring up a couple of revolving accounts and let you know what the balances are in those. School Choice, after I make the reallocations for what was already in the FY20 budget, we will have a balance of $652,799. Our tuition account unfortunately because we had projected high and we know that given enrollment going down in our sending districts we will have $124,436. However, we are using about $60-70,000 for FY21 budget so that account I expect will be very low. The mitigating factor for both of these is given what potentially is happening for the school year, I am not sure about the projection for FY21. I can tell you better after the October 1 numbers. Circuit breaker, starting the year we were at $235,000. The transportation revolving account will be just about $394,000. Those are, particularly the last two are really relevant and the transportation even more beneficial because, Chapter 71, the transportation reimbursement money that we get, given the fact that we had a little bit lower actual cost because of the school closure, and the fact that Chapter 71 is easy funding to come up if the state needs to do cutting for education because they are only 86 out of us out of 350 school districts so that regional transportation will be really helpful if that funding source is cut to help us remain stable with our staffing and funding for the year. I don’t have any projection on what the reimbursement will actually be this year. They keep coming out with different projections but until the state budget is finalized we won’t know. We are on year four of the contract. Dohoney – the money that is in the transportation revolving account, is readily available to us this year right? S. Harrison – yes. That has to be used this year and it has to be used for transportation.
- Old/New Business:
- Weston – I sent a letter to the Stockbridge Town Clerk and to Peter and Steve announcing my resignation from the school committee after 10 years. This coming school year is going to be the most challenging school year for all educators and staff everywhere but my particular role with some quasi administrative functions and in multiple grades that I teach, I am overwhelmed before the school year begins and I do not have the time to dedicate to the school committee which takes a fair amount of time to do it right. I am also running into an increasing number of conflict of interest cases which I think are very important issues whether to open the schools, to merge them, and they deserve to have a voice and I can’t participate in those. As of tomorrow, I will not be on the school board any more. I very much enjoyed my time on the board. I have three children, two of which have graduated from the district; they are all very different children, they all had very different but very positive experiences and I am just pleased to be part of such a great organization for this time. P. Dillon – I would like to thank Dan for his extraordinary commitment. Ten years is great and ten really quality years is even better. Dan is a career educator and an active citizen and an EMT and a firefighter, who brings so much knowledge to the role. I am really going to miss him and I will miss him in formal meetings but also in informal conversations. He represents the best of our community and what Dad did for us in pushing our thinking and getting us to look at different perspectives has been really important and I wish him the best in his own school and I hope to see him around in Stockbridge and I hope he remains active as a parent and community member. Thank you Dan, I really appreciate all you have done. S. Bannon – On behalf of myself and the entire school committee, I don’t think you will understand how much you will be missed. You have done so much for this committee in negotiations; your experience, your life experience as an educator, our friendship and I really enjoy our phone calls, you give me guidance that everyone knows I need desperately and I really enjoyed listening to you and figure out how to solve the problems I otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to solve. I have had a lot of school committee members over the years, and you definitely are at the top of the list. You have been terrific on the school committee and I hope somewhere our paths cross again. D. Weston – thank you. I also see 114 people still on the call so I make a plug that some people showed interest in what was going on with the school. It is a really great way to get involved in the community so if somebody from Stockbridge is interested they should contact the town offices and let them know that. S. Bannon – it is a joint appointment with the town selectboard and the Stockbridge members of the school committee. I am sure Stockbridge will advertise.
MOTION TO ADJOURN – A. POTTER SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 8:25pm
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary