Minutes – August 6, 2020 – virtual meeting via Zoom and Facebook
BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
August 6, 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: 1 hour, 35 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:
- Superintendent’s Report:
- Re-Opening Plan(s) – P. Dillon – Good evening everybody and welcome. Thank you to so many people joining this meeting. This in my mind, is a continuation of meetings that I have had over the last week or two. Some of those had as many as 200 people so I am glad that so many people are able to join us. I know some of you have heard this before but I thought it makes sense to give a brief overview of where we are at. I am actually going to make a recommendation before we go into public comment which in some ways may shape what people choose to say. From a state perspective, there are two deadlines that I need to meet; and likely many more. One was on July 31st, I had to indicate a tentative plan or what we were leaning toward. On July 31st, having investigated three models: a face-to-face model, a hybrid model and a remote model, I indicated that I was leaning toward the hybrid model. Having literally talked to hundreds of staff and parents over the last week and a half, I am now making a recommendation, and I will talk about this some more to give some context, that we start school not with a hybrid model but with a remote model. I will go into some detail around that in a second. From a calendar perspective, and we addressed this last week, or the school committee did, the staff are going to start on August 26th and have the opportunity to do eleven days of professional development, largely focused around Canvas, our learning management system, safety and protocols around safety and health and wellness and then around work to do on planning. Then students this year will have a slightly shorter school year; this is per the commissioner. They will have a 170 day year instead of the typical 180 day year and students will start on September 14th. Again, my recommendation is that we start students with remote work, not face-to-face work, nor a hybrid model. That is primarily driven around health and wellness and safety. Another thing that is going on is we are in on-going negotiations with our two bargaining groups, the teachers and the para-professionals. We are working through coming to an agreement around a shared metric for when we go in or out of any one of these three models. It is my expectation over the course of the year and what happens with Covid-19, even if we start remotely, we may at some point be in a position to shift to a hybrid model and if the stars were aligned and things were really good to even do face-to-face work. On the other end, we could be in the future in a hybrid model or face-to-face model and have to revert and go back to a remote model. That gives you some context. As I articulated before and articulated in the initial draft plan, there are advantages and disadvantages to each of the three models. The face-to-face one, the primary advantage is the connections that teachers and students make in person and those opportunities to drive learning. The disadvantage is around health and safety and wellness. The hybrid model is what it is named. It is in between the two and you are still working with students face-to-face but about half of them that affords some better opportunities around health wellness and safety. There are still potentially concerns. The last one, the remote model, is entirely safe, except for carpal tunnel for being on the keyboard or eye strain from looking at a screen too much. Potentially the educational opportunities are reduced or slightly reduced. We think our work around Canvas and digging into remote learning will let us approach our remote work in a much enhanced way than what we did in the spring which was less than what he had the capacity to do. We had a plan relatively quickly. We did our best and we survived. Some people did exceptional work but I don’t think uniformly was the work exceptional. I think with the extra eleven days to go into the year, with a new learning management system we should be able to raise the learning and academic bar quite significantly. Previously, I mentioned that there is the negotiating work with the two bargaining groups and some members of the school committee and those conversations have been fruitful. There is a lot to talk about and we will continue to do that. Just to summarize for the small number of people who joined late, I am recommending that we start on September 14th with students doing remote learning and we use the mutually agreed upon metric, maybe coming from the governor or the commissioner to define how we move in and out of particular phases during the course of the year. I would also like to appreciate the feedback that I got particularly in the last week from hundreds of people. It was impactful and I would like to thank the staff for the incredible amount of work they are going to do around distance or remote learning. I think it is going to be a heavy lift but I think we have the capacity to do it well. I also want to acknowledge the impact that this is going to have on everybody, particularly students and parents. We are in the middle of really challenging times and we are going to have to figure out additional ways to be flexible and to support really thoughtful learning. We are going to make our best effort at it and I hope other people can meet us and join us in that work. That is my overview. If the school committee has any questions before the public comment and into public comment, whatever suits your pleasure. Bannon – I think the school committee will have plenty of chances. Let’s go to public comment as we promised then we will go into the school committee discussion. If you use the raise your hand feature which can be found on your Zoom, please feel free to raise your hand and I will recognize you.
- Public Comments:
- Stephen Tournas, 22 Church Street, Stockbridge – I appreciate the work that Peter and everyone has done to come up with a plan to accelerate learning and teaching. I’ll boil down my question to a very simple one. I am very interested to know the extent to which the teachers and yourselves have been involved in this plan because of course, I am concerned about the safety of my children, but I am also concerned about how the teachers feel because they are the ones who, in either a hybrid or a school-based learning model would be the ones to be exposed throughout the day. I want to get a sense of what the participation of the teacher staff was in a development of this plan. Dillon – We have been meeting with the teachers in a host of different ways. I have a 29 member reopening subcommittee that has been helpful. We have a negotiating group and the teachers were very clear at the local level and at the state level about their concerns around safety. A large majority of them made it very clear that unanswered questions drove them to strongly support a fully remote model to afford us time to better answer those questions.
- Neal Weber, 22 Ice Glen Road, Stockbridge – has there been any conversation on the district in some way helping parents that need something to do with their kids because they have to work full time in this remote model? Dillon – There have been conversations around it. The tension is on the one hand if we are making an argument that people can’t be in school because it is unhealthy or potentially unsafe, then it is hard for us to directly address that problem because what do we do? I think we will look around us and see what local nonprofits are doing and if there are opportunities to provide support there and typically our guidance/social workers staff work individually with families and there by be some solutions to work on in the short term and then the long term. It is a real challenge. The big disadvantage of the remote model is the impact on families. We are aware of it. If other folks have creative ideas, I encourage them to reach out to me.
- Sarah Steiner, 488 Meadow Street, Lee – I am a little late coming to the meeting. I’m sorry. I am assuming we are working on the model of totally remote classes. Is that correct? Dillon – yes, Sarah that is what I shared at the beginning of the meeting. For the time being when school starts on September 14th, we will do a fully remote model. We are working to try to get a metric from the state that would help inform decisions when we might be in a hybrid or face-to-face model. Starting on September 14th for the foreseeable future, my recommendation to the school committee is we use a fully remote model. S. Steiner – my question is, is there a pool of tutors that we could have smaller groups of students. Is there a pool of tutors that we could use to help our students maybe one or two days a week in smaller learning pods? I have never homeschooled. I am a little uncomfortable just having my daughter remotely learn five days a week and not having a good handle on what she is learning and how she is learning it. I was hoping to hire a tutor to basically guide her through this time. P. Dillon – I hear what you are saying. I might have gotten to this a little at the beginning. I think what we are going to be doing, what teachers and paras and staff are going to be doing with students is going to be much more sophisticated than it was last spring. On the one hand, I appreciate the idea of hiring a tutor; on the other hand, we may be able to provide that in the context of what a more enhanced, sophisticated model of remote learning looks like. Maybe it makes sense to have an offline conversation more about the tutoring thing. I am happy to do that with you. S. Steiner – how is fully remote learning more sophisticated than what happened in the spring. P. Dillon – that fell out of the sky to us and didn’t have as much time to prepare as we would have liked. We had none. We used our existing tools. What we have done that is different is we purchased a fancy program called Canvas which is a learning management system so it will be one place where students get their work, where we can monitor their work, where parents can log in and see it and we will do a lot of training around that. We are taking 11 days to support the teachers on how to use that and we think that will be a very important tool in us doing better or more sophisticated work with students. We are building that out now and that training is happening over the next month or so before September 14th. Many other districts in Berkshire County and many districts around the country have used that or are starting to use it with real success. We are hopeful that will set the students up to do better. We are also changing our expectations for the kind of work they do unlike in the spring. The kinds of feedback we got from parents was some of the work was wonderful, some of it was passive and there wasn’t enough face-to-face learning with teachers and paras. Where we were really successful was when people did things in real time.
- Brian Grossman, 10 Brainard Avenue, Great Barrington – I have talked to Peter in the past, Steve and Kristi Farina throughout this process. As you know, you are not going to be surprised at my comments. I was dismayed for a number of months at the lack of parental involvement in the process itself. Then we had about a three week period, the last three weeks or so where parental comments were solicited and I appreciated that process. At the time, Peter, we heard very clearly from you, 1. That your recommendation was right now there is not a lot of corona virus; we could go full time but we want to be safe so I am recommending the hybrid model. You heard from a lot of parents. What I don’t know is what the other parents said. I know from talking to a lot of parents which I have done, I certainly haven’t heard a perspective from the parents, the ones that I talked to suggesting that they wanted a complete distance learning process. Over the past few days you switched abruptly from hybrid to distance learning. I know you say you talked to a lot of people, but what does that really mean? What did the people say? Was it because of what parents said; was it because of what teachers said and what is the science behind it? After I talk, we can deal with these individually but I guess the first question I have from a safety standpoint; I understand the tracking, the Berkshire Eagle has been tracking corona virus in Berkshire County and in Great Barrington I believe there is one positive case in the past month. It is extremely low right now. My question is if we are waiting for another time to bring kids to school, one that is safer, what is safer than almost no virus being here. What is the science we are waiting on? Is there a possibility that we are actually going to go back to school when we are in a period of very low corona virus? The second question that I have with this is regarding the distance model. You talk about successes with the distance model. I am perplexed by that in this sense. We all know what we saw in the spring and experienced. There was wide-spread frustration I know among parents in the distance model. I understand that you bought something within the last few weeks. However, if there is science that suggests even those that have been doing this distance model for a long period of time, that it approaches the in-person model in any respect. I would love to know that and why you have confidence that this distance model is going to be effective. The next question I have is there is an assumption made that this at home model is very safe; distance learning is much safer than kids being in school. There have been studies worldwide about corona virus spread in Sweden where they decided to take people back to school versus Finland where they did not go straight back to school and the cases of corona virus spread among students and teachers were the same. I am wondering what the science behind keeping kids home is and why we are assuming that is going to be so much safer for everybody involved when there are a bunch of different ways people have to get day care, etc. at home may be faced with corona virus. Bannon – your time is up. P. Dillon – Steve, I can respond briefly. Brian, that was like 14 questions embedded in three. I won’t get to all of them. I circle back with you. I ran a series of forums. They were attended by staff and parents and in some cases students. I wasn’t able to disaggregate if multiple people attended multiple times but all told, I think I spoke with around 400 people. Not everybody communicated but around that. The whole notice of us having a mutually agreed upon metric is trying to take the emotional side out of this. People have been making all sorts of arguments. I am hoping that the governor or the commissioner identifies a metric that is regionally driven, that we can use as a basis for going between the three phases. I agree with you that the infection or spread rate is low now in Berkshire County and if we had that metric in hand and agreed to, we might be in a position to start school in a hybrid model on September 14th but we don’t have it in hand and we don’t have it agreed to. I have an obligation to share something with the commissioner and the public. It was supposed to be by Monday and how it is by Friday of next week. I think it is highly likely that we go back and forth between at least the hybrid and the remote and maybe the hybrid, remote and full face-to-face. The more complex question about….B. Grossman – Peter, just so I understand this, and I apologize for interrupting….S. Bannon – quickly please because others want to speak. B. Grossman – inaudible. P. Dillon – Brian, it is really hard for me to hear you. I don’t know if I am the only person but you are very broken up. B. Grossman – I was asking whether or not that metric is spread within the community. Is that what we are looking for to judge whether people are going back to school? P. Dillon – I don’t have that metric in hand yet. We have an agreement that we are going to use a metric. It may be by community spread, it may be infection rate and I hope to share an update on that in the middle of next week. S. Grossman – I am just trying to get clarity on this point. S. Bannon – I understand that. I have a lot of other people that want to speak. Can you continue to answer the question Peter. P. Dillon – I think maybe Brian what I should do is afterwards or tomorrow, let’s schedule a call so I can go into really fine detail on this. I think there are about 170 people on this call and many people want to ask questions and I think Steve is affording them all three minutes so I want to be sure we get to other people. B. Grossman – are you not going to answer my questions? I think they are appropriate questions. (inaudible) P. Dillon – it’s not that I don’t want to answer your questions, I can’t totally hear you. Woman speaking – frankly, I think these are questions many would want to hear the answers to. S. Bannon – whomever is speaking you need to identify yourself. We are going to run the meeting. We can’t just let people speak. If we have 170 people all start speaking at once we aren’t going to get anything done. P. Dillon – I am trying not to be complicated. I appreciate Brian’s question. It literally had a dozen parts to it. I got to the parts I could. There was part of it around the efficacy of online learning versus face-to-face learning. It is my belief that face-to-face learning is better but we are in the middle of a global pandemic and we don’t have a mutually agreed upon standard around what is safe and what is not safe. There are many concerns about safety. Many parents have expressed a concern about sending their kids at all. By starting with a remote model, it gives us a little time to answer some of these questions, to develop a metric and use it. I think that is thoughtful.
- Tasha Candee, 522 Egremont Road, Great Barrington – I am wondering what happens when the kids don’t sit in front of the computer for remote learning. I have a very hard time having my daughter sit in front of a computer so therefore is she not going to get what she would get from a normal class? Dillon – some of us do fine sitting in front of a computer and some of us really struggle with it. I am hoping the work we do with teachers can create the kind of activities that people find engaging so over time students will develop better capacity to be engaged. I think Tasha it really depends on individual students and it really also depends on grade level or developmental age. A younger student will have a significantly harder time than an older student. As we build out what really thoughtful distance learning looks like, I think we will try to create experiences that are additionally engaging and that work for students but in any classroom not everything works for every student so the challenge to teachers and paraprofessionals and other folks is to find ways to connect and engage students. T. Candee – (inaudible) S. Bannon – we can’t hear you. I will be glad to come back to you if we get this straightened out. P. Dillon – for folks who have a slightly weaker internet connection, sometimes turning off your video will let your sound quality be better. S. Bannon – Peter, I am going to mute everyone and then you just unmute yourself. S. Bannon – Tasha, I am going to mute you. Let me know if you get a better connection and I will unmute you.
- Sarah Casey, 6 Brook Lane, Great Barrington – I know this is for a much smaller population of the student body but what is the plan for children with high disabilities that can’t do traditional distance learning? Dillon – thank you Sarah for asking that question. It is something we are struggling with. Had we been in a hybrid model and if we went to one, there was the discussion of having students in three cohort groups. Students with significant needs would in that model get additional face-to-face time. In a distance learning model, I think our work with students will be more individualized and again, it would be very specific to each student and what their particular needs are. On an individual level, I think we can talk with you more about it but there’s somewhere between 15-20% of our students have IEPs and of the 15-20% maybe 5% of them have really significant needs. We are going to have to work on really creative ways to meet those needs.
- Stephanie Kluka, 67 Dunmore Court, Lenox – I have a school choice student and I am also a teacher. Thank you so much to all of us. Peter, I think you have answered about 20 of my questions this week so I understand this is not an easy position for anybody to be in. I genuinely appreciate everybody’s time. My question is very similar to Sarah’s. Not to beat a dead horse, but is that for everybody – everybody is remote learning? My second question is how will assessments work for students who need to be evaluated for IEPs. Are we going to be bringing students in for related services? Are we going to be bringing students in for psych or educational testing? What is the plan with that using remote learning? Dillon – for the time being, I think we are going to focus on remote learning and then as we have our metric, as things potentially open up, there are two groups I would like to prioritize and maybe three: students with significant disabilities, English language learners because they would particularly benefit from more opportunities for in-person dialogue to establish communicative competence and then our youngest students because being a PK or EK student or even a K student is is largely about social interaction. Can they do some work online? Some. Is it as meaningful? Probably not. In an open up scenario, I would like to support those three groups first and then more people in the context of a hybrid model. The assessment one is tough. In professional organizations that represent different folks that do assessments have really different thoughts and feelings and statements around remote assessment. Interestingly some speech work can be virtually successful. You miss the opportunity to help students form sounds and manipulate their jaw but there is a lot that can be done there. I know several psychologists who do assessment have real concerns about the validity of doing the assessments virtually. That is a real serious one. In some areas, some assessments seem to be ok virtually and some not. I think we just have to do more work there. The whole world is doing this so potentially bigger systems with more resources than us will figure out some of this and we can piggyback on their learning.
- Sonja Gray, 14 Stump Road, Sandisfield – I know you touched on this at one of the meetings on Monday about the internet and support infrastructure. I am just wondering what the throught are on that especially for those that are really in a zone with no cell coverage and just a DSL connection. The chromebooks were handed out last year and they didn’t work at all. My child ended up on his cell phone. It was the best way to do the Google meetings. I was wondering what update you had on that. Dillon – I know where you live and I know what is going on out there. Geography is our biggest enemy in some places. If you live in a place that had strong cell service and you didn’t have an internet connection, we could address that with a mobile hotspot but if you live in a place with weak or limited internet connections and limited cell service, it is really tough. I think at some point if we get to a hybrid model, we will have an opportunity for the students who aren’t in school who have limited internet access to be somewhere in school supervised in a separate cohort so they can use the school’s internet. While everyone is remote, I think we really have to work family by family to try to figure it out. Somewhere between 5-8% of families have internet connectivity problems and we need to figure that out with you. I know there are some more hot spots in and around fire stations and town halls. That can be ok in the better weather, as it gets cold, those become less attractive. If any one on this call has a specific internet connectivity issue, reach out to me and I will connect you with people who can help try to problem solve around that. S. Bannon – I assume, Peter, to do that now, as opposed to school start time, that gives us time to work on that. P. Dillon – yes, and some of it may be beyond us. I heard today at a meeting in Richmond that there is a way you can have a little satellite receiver for the internet and it isn’t particularly expensive and it helps a lot. We will explore that and a range of options. If you live in a really remote area, we may not be able to solve it. I want to manage expectations. In many areas, we may be able to have good suggestions.
- Bannon – seeing no one else wanting to speak, it is now the turn of the school committee to make some decisions. Peter has made a recommendation to us and it is clear what that recommendation is. Brian, is this a process question? B. Grossman – I know I asked a few questions; I know there were several questions. You said you didn’t have time to answer because you hear from everybody else. I just wonder whether or not you have enough time to actually address the questions now or that I have to wait until I have a private forum with you to get those questions answered. I think it is a fair question. P. Dillon – Brian, if you could restate one or two of the questions because it is a lot to keep in my head. B. Grossman – sure, and I appreciate you addressing them. The first question that I asked and I think you answered was you are looking for a standard level of corona virus of which you can make a decision on when people can come back to school even though the level of corona virus is very low right now in the county. I think I got that answer. The second one is I wanted more clarity on the distance learning option and whether we have any reason to believe this has been successful in other places or we are just hoping it is going to be successful. Is there any comparison of this? I have to make some decisions with my own kids or whether or not we get private tutors, in order to do it. I would be interested in that science overall. P. Dillon – to answer that one before I mix them up again, Canvas is a well respected learning management system. It is a tool or toolbox to share opportunities with students. The tool itself is well respected and Mt. Greylock uses it, Williams College and MCLA use it; Hotchkiss in Connecticut uses it. Like any system, it isn’t just about the system, it is how we use it and what we put into it. If we build it out robustly and our teachers develop a facility and capacity to use it, it can be wonderful. We are going to invest a lot of time in our teachers to do that. Is everybody going to master it on September 14th? Probably not. Will many of our teachers master it by September 14th? I think so. Then people will develop additional facilities over the course of the year. The learning management system will be part of the work and then there will be an expectation that students will do additional work as they would do in the context of any given school year. That will be very parallel to what typically happens in school and likely significantly better than much of the work that occurs in March through June. When I talk about that time, I do like to say that the spring was hard and challenging and not as engaging as it might have been. I also think that there were many examples across all grade levels and subject areas where people really did some exceptional work. I would like to build on that exceptional work and tie those together. B. Grossman – my last question is I am curious from a safety perspective. I know you said at the beginning this distance learning model was extremely safe. I have seen studies from different school systems around the Sweden and in the last couple of weeks from Finland where they suggested looking at…Sweden opened up their schools; that the corona virus spread amongst students and teachers was no greater than Finland where they did not open up their schools because everybody has different situations at home and day care, etc. I am wondering what the science was behind going to distance learning rather than a hybrid model. P. Dillon – my decision to push the importance of a metric is I want these decisions driven by science and not driven by emotional argument. I hear emotional arguments all the time and there is lots of validity to them. I would really like it driven by science. I think starting with a remote model buys us a little time to lay out a very scientific framework. The thing that you didn’t explicitly mention that I am concerned about is from a virus spread perspective, remote learning may be safer, even thinking about the Finland/Norway distinction, but there could be ancillary mental health issues connected to kids being remote that also have significant consequences. Things we study all the time, depression, suicidal ideation, all this other stuff, this quarantine, whether it is remote or hybrid, people being separated from each other, particularly teenagers who thrive on social interaction, is really unsettling and difficult. I see it in my own kids and in my friends’ kids. It is really challenging. The safety is around virus spread but it is much more complex than that and while I am reading likely the same articles you are reading, the reason I want a scientific benchmark is I would like there to be a real shared understanding around that and that is why we are going there. In my mind there may be a little window now when we could pull this off but rather than jumping into that window and regretting what happened, I think the prudent thing is to delay a little with the remote start, use that time to figure out what is going on. Part of what is challenging in all of this is comparatively is Berkshire County is in very good shape but if everybody on this call watches the national news you see what is happening in Florida and Tennessee and Georgia and Texas and even our neighbor Rhode Island, which for awhile was a model; I’m not a psychologist but there is a collective anxiety about that and I think that is feeding into this. I’m not proposing we go into the remote indefinitely. I am proposing we start with remote while we develop a metric and a way to make informed decisions going forward. B. Grossman – thank you Peter. I appreciate that greatly.
- Alquist, 219 South Street, Housatonic- Thank you for everything you have done and the thoughtfulness. My question is just a follow-up. You mentioned that the state was possibly going to be providing a remote learning model that was to be announced today. I was trying to Google around to see if I could find some updates on that but I couldn’t find anything. I was wondering if you could give us an update on that. P. Dillon – in addition to the work that we are doing, yesterday the state selected after a complicated RFP process, two vendors who could provide remote learning. To be quite frank, I read the memo but I didn’t go into it in fine detail because I have been a little busy. The vendors are Ingenuity and one other one. One of them will provide a frame where a district could use their curriculum and our own teachers would teach it and one of them is a stand-alone prepackaged or canned curriculum where the vendors teachers teach it. Either of them could be valuable and we are going to look into them to supplement things. One offered classes in areas where there only might be a handful of students doing it so it is not a good use of our resources to have one teacher teaching three students in one class. We will be looking at that maybe tomorrow or early next week and see if we want to use any of those. In the past, we also had free seats for virtual high school which is another established online learning model and we had high school students do work through Brigham Young University through their online program. I don’t know all the details but I will obviously report back to the group on that and see if those offerings make sense.
- Sarah Steiner, 488 Meadow Street, Lee – One last question. Is this a final decision? When will we have a final decision on which course we are going to take? Dillon – the one certainty this year is this is the year of uncertainty. This is a recommendation to the school committee. The school committee will likely accept or reject this recommendation. One either Monday or Friday, I will share this with the state. They will then give us feedback on our plan. We will progress like this is what we are doing and plan around it. I think it highly likely that we start school like this on September 14th and maybe two weeks into that or depending on what is happening in late August, early September, we will evaluate where we are and how we want to proceed going forward. There are a few variations on what could happen. The broader context could get better and after some number of weeks, we go back to a hybrid model. The broader context could get worse and we stay in a remote model. Maybe they develop a really great vaccine and everybody gets it and the world is wonderful and we go back face-to-face and then maybe there is a third wave and we go back to a remote model. I think it is going to change a lot and I understand that it is really hard on kids, families and parents but the certainty of knowing of how we are going to start on the 14th should give people some relief while we then work to explore the other possibilities. S. Steiner – I agree. Speaking for myself, the sooner I know which course you’re going to take, the sooner it will help me make decisions about how to handle it. P. Dillon – there are millions of implications; work, child care, etc. I get it. Having a rising 8th grader, it is going to be challenging and I am lucky to have an 8th grader and not a 1st or 2nd grader.
- School Committee Discussion & Potential Vote – S. Bannon – it is time for the school committee discussion. I can’t see all of you but you can speak as you would or make motions. Let’s get started. Dohoney – my understanding is that we are moving toward the vote this evening. I request that the format of the vote be as required as a roll call vote but rather than vote on one of the three scenarios, I think we should conduct a vote where upon each member being called, they simply state which of the three models that they support. They have now been very well defined: in person, hybrid, or remote. Our body makes the decision based on that voting mechanism. S. Bannon – my question is if we do that straw poll, do we not need to have a formal vote after that? R. Dohoney – I am not sure. I think if you want to do it that way, it is fine. If you want to do a straw poll then a confirmatory one afterwards, I think that is fine. I think that is a better decision-making model for us. S. Bannon – if the school committee wants to have discussion, I am willing to have it or if we want to do the straw poll first, that is purely up to the school committee. If people want to have their say, I am more than willing to listen to it. S. Stephen – I saw we do a straw poll to figure out what we want to do and move from there. S. Bannon – so if we do a straw poll, I will ask someone to make a motion to confirm that. R. Dohoney – I had another question for Peter but if you want to move forward with the straw poll that is fine too. I can ask it later. It was touched upon by one of the earlier questioners, and I applaud Peter and the administration and the teachers that came to the table and the conversations that have happened in the past week, but I want to know, has any scientific data come forward in the past week since our last meeting. I don’t need to know about conversations or opinions. I want to know if any information changed or was new since the hybrid recommendation changed to the remote recommendation. P. Dillon – I think lots of scientific information has come forward but I think what your question is, did that scientific information influence my recommendation. My response would be no. B. Fields – in the last three days, the Department of Public Health in Massachusetts has noted our positive rate which used to be below 1% is now 2.2%. That is a change from last week. Last week at this time, it wasn’t 2.2%. We have had an increasing number of deaths and an increasing number of positives. There has been a change in the science around this virus. S. Bannon – I will go down the roll of school committee members and I will vote last. Rich – hybrid; Bill – remote; Anne – regretfully remote; Andy – remote; Sean – regretfully all remote; Jason – hybrid; Molly – remote; Dan – remote; Steve – hybrid. I would like a motion to recap that. It was six remote; three hybrid. MOTION TO FOLLOW OUR SUPERINTENDENT’S RECOMMENDATION OF HOLDING SCHOOL REMOTELY UNTIL OTHERWISE POSSIBLE – A. POTTER SECONDED: B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS VIA ROLL CALL VOTE B. Fields – I have given a lot of thought and have comments from parents and staff; a couple of comments initially that the reopening task force needs to be expanded. I agree with Brian and his comment that we need to expand it to include students, parents and other members of the community. I would hope that Peter would do that. I don’t know if that needs a motion. This is a decision that not only affects the district but the entire community. S. Bannon – how many parents are on the task force now? B. Fields – I didn’t see any in the list. They were all members of the district. P. Dillon – that is a change I am happy to make. You can just verbally direct me to do it. I am going to do it anyway. I will expand it. As I have done in the past, I have a reputation for having giant, unmanageable groups of people give feedback. It has 29 people on it now. I will add about 15 parents. We are doing work in small groups. Probably more importantly I will continue to do surveys and focus groups as well which I think will inform decisions. S. Bannon – what is the composition of the group? P. Dillon – there are 29 people; maybe 7 or 8 of them are administrators, teachers and paras across all subject areas and grade levels. Some of the staff are also parents but I formed it as a working group of staff not as a parent group. That in hindsight is perhaps an oversight and I am happy to include parents. B. Fields – as I stated last week, I initially was looking at the hybrid model but this week I had to re-read everything. I have really switched. Brian using Finland and Sweden, he omits the fact that the death rate in Sweden was significantly higher than that in Finland, Denmark and Norway. From what I have understood, Dr. Fauci has said that we have to be careful about opening school when rates are going up. I know in Berkshire County, rates are not going up now. We are noticing a spike in the state and we have Williams College and MCLA opening up and Simon’s Rock. I don’t know if Simon’s Rock is going to have kids there but we are going to have people travelling through our towns to get to those two higher educational institutions and they are going to stop here. We don’t know where they have been; we don’t know what their criteria has been in regards to where they have been and where they are going. I am very concerned about that. There were a myriad of issues that I thought of during the week, including things like busing and how are we going to have monitors on buses; not the bus driver but a monitor on the bus. It is unfair to ask bus drivers to multitask while they are driving. If you are asking drivers to monitor, take temperatures and monitor physical distancing and mask wearing, you are asking for a distracted driver. We are going to have to look at monitors. There are so many things that we need to think seriously about and that need to be done in small groups for us to suddenly just jump in to say we want the kids there. I want the kids there too. I know as former teachers out there and Dan, that is important but my whole thing is how do we keep the virus out of the buildings. To me, right now, this is the best way we can do it. We can keep the virus out of the building then we can phase in a hybrid model. To do a hybrid right away with having different cohorts coming and going, I think is the wrong move and I think the science backs me up on that. A. Potter – I will point out that Simon’s Rock is coming back. Their students are supposed to do 14 days quarantine before they get here and 14 days quarantine there at Simon’s Rock. J. St. Peter – Peter, you were saying the driving force from going from a total remote to a hybrid or even full time is reaching a certain metric. I think I am remembering correctly, at the last meeting you said the CDC recommendation was under 5%. It is my understanding that the state is allowing districts to go back with a hybrid model which to me means that that scientists they are getting their data from feels that it would be an acceptable data point. I am trying to figure out where this number is going to come from. Is it specifically from a negotiation between you, our negotiating committee and the union. Is it the union that is causing this lower point that needs to be made? I am a little confused. The state is allowing it; some districts are going hybrid and we are in a lower infection than the majority of the state. I am looking to where we are going to get that number. P. Dillon – there are two or three partial responses to what you are asking. I don’t want to make up a metric. I don’t want to take the average of the Hopkins number and the Stanford number and something else. I want a number from the governor’s office or the commissioner’s office to drive an informed decision both ways. If it is below this number, it is safe to be this way and if it is above this number, it makes sense to be the other way. It is my expectation that that number will be issued then we would negotiate around that. I really want the concreteness of that. The other thing that I think has come up that is challenging is, this is only an example and I am only editorializing a little, all along through this whole pandemic, the six foot number as the distance. You go to the supermarket and there are six food boxes taped there. The CDC says six feet. The state came up with a three foot number that they rationalized with pediatricians reports and other things but it is half the distance that everybody else had been saying through all of this. I think the assumption that because the state says it is safe, it’s safe came into question when the state didn’t fully make a compelling argument around the other stuff. I hear what you are saying because the state said we could have school so we might be able to have school but you listen to the arguments over the last several weeks. I think an emotional argument in the absence of a scientific argument and I would like to go back to a scientific argument when we have the tool to make one. J. St. Peter – so the state is obviously getting their information from Mass General or one of the big hospitals there, but they obviously decided that the metric point we are below that and they are condoning allowing some schools to go back in a hybrid model but you are saying that they haven’t publicly said what that number is and until they give us that number and the reasoning behind that, or the actual science behind that specific number, it would be unwise to go back. P. Dillon – that is my recommendation. The other thing is I don’t want the state to be seen monolithically. We are very different from Middlesex County and we are all being held to the same standard. I may be making your own argument that we should be able to open because our infection rate is so much lower than Middlesex County but I want a mutually agreed to objective metric that we can use on every side of this to form our decisions. On a good day, I am a very thoughtful educator but I am not a scientist and I am not an immunologist and I want concrete information that not just everybody on this call but that parents and teachers and students and everybody can feel good about it. I don’t have that tool right now. S. Stephen – we have 151 people on this call right now; before we had 160 plus. I was in meetings earlier in the week with Peter. We had at 8am, we had 150 people on one call; we had 200 plus on a call later on that day. If we can’t meet in person, legally with that amount of people inside, I find it against my conscience, to vote remotely from my house to open a school to several hundred kids. Legally, right now, you cannot have 150 people inside a building according to the Massachusetts governor. It is a no brainer. I would be more than happy to vote to do a hybrid model in a heartbeat. I want everybody in the same room seeing what that situation is going to look like. What does the seating in a classroom look like? How are the kids going to go to the nurse’s office? The high school, with rooms with no windows….the nurse’s office has no windows. There is no door outside. I don’t see how in good conscience I could ever vote to open up the school for hundreds of children and do it from my house.
- Bannon – There is a suggestion here Peter if you are going to have more remote sessions especially with individual grade levels, elementary, middle and high school. P. Dillon – we are planning to do that and I am working with the principals on that. They will either be at the middle or end of next week or the week after that. I appreciate that I can talk to the system as a whole but specific questions are best answered at the building level. I may join the principals on those calls but they will be scheduled. It is a very good recommendation and we are working on it already. The other question is when will the school committee meet in person. My answer to that is we have no plans to meet in person. If we met in person tonight, it would have had to be outside and in order to have a meeting with both Zoom and in person, the technology is pretty intense and we may not have that technology so at this point, we will continue with Zoom meetings. P. Dillon – there is a possibility of that public hearing which might be outside. S. Bannon – right, we are going to work on that. We meet again August 20th. P. Dillon – we need to do something before that Steve. We took a tough vote tonight but it is clearly in my mind it is a necessary evil that our kids are not going back to school. It was also clear from the numerous questions about students with disabilities and students with IEPs that the remote model provides no support for them. We need to meet weekly with reports on what we are doing with students at need and students with social/emotional problems. The decision we made tonight is leaving them out to dry. We have a responsibility to meet weekly so we have good firm answers to those questions. S. Stephen – I agree with you Rich. I think what we need to be doing is weekly updates because we get updates from DESE and the state almost every day. This is not something we have been sitting on waiting to happen. These new requirements pop up almost daily so we should have a meeting next week. We should have two meetings next week. B. Fields – I think teachers need time to develop what we talked about and to answer some of these questions and to force them and the staff to be put on such a tight timeline, I think the 20th would be perfect for us to find out what is happening. I think they need time between now and the 20th. MOTION TO CONTINUE WITH MEETINGS THURSDAYS AT 6PM UNTIL THE SCHOOL IS REOPENED – R. DOHONEY SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: PASSED 6 to 3. S. Bannon – Bill and Sean, I understand your point. I am not asking Peter to force anything. Meetings could be 15 or 20 minutes. We are not asking to reinvent the wheel. Give us an update on what has happened the last week, where we are and where we are going. It may not be a very long meeting but it is probably the best way we can get a large amount of people other than his individual meetings to listen and publicize what we are doing in the school. Peter had a lot of good answers tonight; he had a lot of unanswered questions, not his fault, we are in an unchartered territory and there is a checklist he is going to have to check off before September 14th and what better way of doing it, as decisions are made, we publicize them as a school committee. P. Dillon – what I heard Steve, loud and clear, is we will come back to you with a thoughtful plan around strategies to work with high needs, special education students at the very start of the school year. That is one of the first things we will share. Hopefully we will share some thoughts around the metrics; share some updates on the negotiations and the big one that lots of people think about and is very important to young people and parents are what is going to happen with athletics, drama, music and chorus and all the other activities seen as potentially high risk. There is plenty to update you on and we will share what is happening and also share updated plans. J. St. Peter – I just want to say one more thing. The remote learning, through no fault of anyone’s. It was a complete train wreck. I am not blaming anyone. I think our teachers and our administrators did a great job reacting to a tough situation. The fact is that having three kids of my own in the district, it did not go well at all. The public, parents and children are going to give us a mulligan on that. I think with having six months to prepare going forward they are going to be expencint as Bill likes to say a very rigorous educational experience. It is the duty of the school committee and administration and the teachers to work very hard to give them the education these kids need and deserve. P. Dillon – the 11 days that we have to work with our staff to set that up, if we do it right, can be entirely transformational. I hope everyone shares their feedback early and often and we will make shifts to make it impactful in a good way for young people. S. Bannon – if you have questions or comments, you don’t have to wait for school committee meetings, there are principals that are ready to answer your questions, superintendents and school committee members, etc. S. Stephen – yes, please feel free to contact school committee members; our emails are on the website. B. Fields – a parent told me this week, the parent was looking at the hybrid and thought it might be good but finally after doing a lot of reading and talking to medical people, she reminded me that we are in a pandemic. This is not normal. This is not something that should be lightly looked at. You have to keep thinking that this is a pandemic and we have to keep the virus out of the buildings. It isn’t over yet.
MOTION TO ADJOURN – A. POTTER SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 7:35pm
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder ______________________________
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary