Minutes – January 14, 2021 – approved 1/28/2021
BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING
Teleconference Meeting via Zoom
January 14, 2021 – 6:00pm – approved 1/28/2021
School Committee: S. Bannon, J. St. Peter, A. Hutchinson, C. Sprague, R. Dohoney, B. Fields, D. Singer, S. Stephen, B. Bonn-Buffoni, M. Thomas
Administration: P. Dillon, S. Harrison
Staff/Public: T. Lee, K. Farina, B. Doren, S. Soule,(student member)
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, 50 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: MOTION TO APPROVE MINUTES OF NOVEMBER 19, 2020, DECEMBER 3, 2020, DECEMBER 17, 2020 FIELDS SECONDED: M. THOMAS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Superintendent’s Report: Dillon –
- Good News Item(s): Dillon – The sign has been completed for our renamed middle school to WEB DuBois Middle School. I am really excited about it. At the next meeting, I will bring to the group that we have an anonymous donor who has offered to pay for all the costs connected to the renaming. That will be the signage, letterhead and a few other things. I will formally bring that to you for your approval.
- Requests for Approval:
- Donation – MMRHS Horticulture Program – P. Dillon – We have a donation to our horticulture program. I would like your approval to accept it. Farina – Lynn Barry donated $750 to the horticulture program at the high school in honor of her mother who recently passed away and was an avid gardener. MOTION TO ACCEPT THE DONATION FOR THE MMRHS HORTICULTURE PROGRAM R. DOHONEY SECONDED: B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Dillon – since the agenda was shared, I received a $500 anonymous donation for the wrestling program so I ask for your approval to accept that donation. MOTION TO APPROVE THE DONATION FOR THE MMRHS WRESTLING PROGRAM J. ST. PETER SECONDED: S. STEPHEN ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- Memorandum of Understanding – BHEA Unit C Paraprofessionals: (Proposed Increase to Step 1 for FY21 & FY22) – P. Dillon – the state minimum state went up this year and while we talked about this in negotiations, we missed it a little bit because the state minimum wage goes up by the calendar year not the school fiscal year. What the MOU proposes is that paraprofessionals who are currently being paid $12.75 just on the first step, people in their first year working for us, will have their salary increased this year to $13.50. Next year as the minimum wage goes up again, in the contract their salary would be $14.10 and we are recommending that next year it goes up to $14.25. Everything else stays the same. People on step 2 and higher are already above the standard so this is just correcting something for a small number of people that are below it. School districts are exempt from it but we are competing against other entities that would hire people so we think it is the right and smart thing to meet that standard. MOTION TO APPROVE: THE BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT (DISTRICT) AND THE BERKSHIRE HILLS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION – UNIT C – (BHEA – C), HEREBY AGREE TO THE FOLLOWING TERMS AND CONDITIONS AND UNDERSTANDINGS REGARDING A CHANGE TO STEP 1 ON THE SALARY SCHEDULE FOR PARAPROFESSIONALS SINCE IT WAS THE INTENTION OF BOTH PARTIES THAT THE STARTING RATE WOULD BE NO LESS THAN THE MINIMUM WAGE SET BY THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS FOR THE CALENDAR YEAR THAT BEGINS IN EACH FISCAL YEAR OF THE CONTRACT.
THEREFORE, THE DISTRICT AND BHEA-C AGREE TO THE FOLLOWING:
- THE RATE FOR STEP 1 IN FY21 SHALL BE INCREASED TO $13.50.
- ANY PARAPROFESSIONAL HIRED IN FY21 SHALL RECEIVE THIS NEW RATE BEGINNING ON JANUARY 1, 2021 AND CONTINUE THROUGH JUNE 30, 2021.
- THE NEW RATE FOR STEP 1 IN FY22, BEGINNING ON JULY 1, 2021, SHALL BE $14.25.
- ALL OTHER RATES IN THE SALARY SCHEDULE FOR FY21, FY22 AND FY23 SHALL REMAIN THE SAME. DOHONEY SECONDED: B. FIELDS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
- COVID-19 – P. Dillon – I am going to show you my process to review data and make decisions and some of the sources I look at. The first document I am going to share is a high-level overview of it. Then I am actually going to dig in to specific documents and talk you through it. The only bummer about when I am sharing my screen and showing things is I can’t see you. That is unfortunate because it is better to gauge people’s reactions to things. Steve, I will use you as an extra set of eyes. Bannon – Peter will go through this explanation, the school committee will ask questions and then if there is anyone in the audience after the school committee is done who wants to speak for up to three minutes insteading of waiting until the end of the meeting, you will be able to do that after the school committee is done. P. Dillon – I understand both the context and the impact of my decisions around this and obviously I don’t make them lightly. There are considerations around safety and student and staff health. There are considerations around students and particularly their mental health as this drags on. There are considerations about families and their time and what being remote does to families and their own professional obligations. There are more factors that you can possibly imagine. Earlier in the summer and the start of the school year I learned much more about HVAC than I thought I would even know. More recently I feel like I am moonlighting as an epidemiologist trying to make sense of extraordinarily complicated data sets. Occasionally as I get responses from folks, and they are on all sides of the issue, I feel more like a social worker or psychologist as people struggle through this. It is very complicated and very challenging. I really appreciate parents, students and families’ patience through what is the more extraordinary and challenging of times. Once a week I meet with a joint labor management or joint health and safety committee. There are three school committee members on it; five teachers and two of the people that are on the committee are nurses and one is a pharmacist. There is good knowledge there. I also check regularly with the public health nurse, with local folks in different roles in the health departments and occasionally with pediatricians and other medical professionals and emergency planners from both Fairview and BMC. There is a group called COVID-19 Now and in a minute I will go through that. That is the non-profit website that appears in the Berkshire Eagle often. There are three data points there: new cases, infection rate and positivity rate. I look at that quite a bit. There is the state department of health data and that highlights county positivity and then our three member towns plus other towns that I look at are Pittsfield, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield, Richmond, New Marlborough, Monterey. Then there is local data which is tied to clusters and cases by building and I try to separate that by in-school and out-of-school and if those folks had the capacity to transmit COVID-19 to their colleagues, peers or classmates. I go through that by building. There are a whole host of potentially contributing factors. All the data lags a little bit so sometimes I get leading indicators from public health people that aren’t yet reported and then often those numbers come to fruition when the reports come out. When I meet with this group, the group makes a recommendation to me and sometimes competing recommendations or several recommendations and I try to make sense of all of that and then I share my likely plan. I try to communicate that to everybody. In an ideal world, I would share these decisions days if not weeks in advance but the state data comes out on Thursday nights. For example, last week the state data came out and it was incomplete and I didn’t get the information until Friday morning so then I had to meet with my group so that is why I made an announcement about the next week on a Friday evening. I get that it is crummy and less than ideal and I try to not do that. I will do what I can to get ahead of it particularly if we are making a big shift. The one exception to that would be, if for some reason, the data changes dramatically and we just need to close, then I could pivot to close on a dime. I feel better about closing quickly and opening or expanding our offerings ideally with a little more notice. Again, I get that this can be really hard on kids to yoyo around; really hard on families, child care and work obligations and really hard on staff around planning. In some ways, particularly on staff of young children that tend to do a lot of hands-on things. The high would argue that they need significant warning and notice too. What I want to share now is the covidactnow.org. What you will see is Berkshire County. This is the whole county and it says we are in an active outbreak. There is one level worse than where we are at and several levels better. As we go down, these are the data points and I will go into each of them: daily new cases per 100,000, the infection rate and the positive test rate. In this first column, the blue one is highlighted, this is the daily new cases, you scroll down and you see our 54.1 makes us 12th out of 14 counties in Massachusetts. This number is high, not the highest but this is the chart of where we are now in these daily new cases. A couple of days ago, it peaked at 60.8 per 100,000. This is a classic one that could be a leading indicator of the next two. If you click on the infection rate column, it shifts to blue and you see we are at 1.18. Now Berkshire County is #1. This is where we don’t want to be #1. (Peter continues to show covidactnow.org website). Overall it looks like the trend is going down. This is an important data set from a county perspective but it doesn’t give us all the data. In other communities they have more data about the intensive care unit capacity; if tracers are hired and other things. I am going to shift, and I know I am overwhelming everybody and myself as well with the detail on this, this is the department of public health weekly COVID report. They show a weekly report on Thursday nights and then also issue a daily report. I look at this whole report. It is like a 60 page report. This just came out about an hour ago. All sort of stuff, more information than you could ever need, different kinds of settings, long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, etc. In this report, I really focus on the town by town analysis. I am to start with Great Barrington but I look at a bunch of them. You see Great Barrington and it is red. The average daily incident rate per 100,000 for the last 14 days with a bit of a rolling average is 85; the relative change is higher and the percent positive is 4.71. If you think back to the COVID-19 charge that I was showing you and this number 85 here, I think this 4.71 will likely go up. One of our towns, Great Barrington, is at 4.71. The next one I will go to is Stockbridge. When you look at Stockbridge it is now in yellow and the average daily incident is 87.9 but the percent positivity is 6.01 and it is also higher so that is potentially a point of concern. West Stockbridge last week was a little higher than it is now. This week it is 30.4 and the percent positivity is 2.96. I think last week it was 4%. Those are three member towns but the story gets more complicated because how many communities does our district serve both from a student perspective and from towns where staff live. Bill, pick a number. B. Fields – I would say at least 6-8. Pittsfield, all the towns in Berkshire County, then we go into NY state and CT. P. Dillon – that is a totally reasonable assumption. It ends up the number of communities that feed into our school from employees or students is 39. Then you go back and you start looking at some of our larger feeder communities. (Peter shows communities, Pittsfield, Otis, etc.) There is a lot in the news about both Lee and Lenox. All of this contributes. I am going to go to one more data point that is important. This chart is going to look a little funny because we have been on break and you will only see numbers in some columns. To the best of my knowledge, this is where we have active cases of COVID-19 but everybody is out of school so there isn’t the opportunity for transmission in the school but there are three cases at Muddy Brook, three at DuBois and two at the high school. There are only ten of us at the district office and no one there has it. At some point, when we are physically back in session, it is likely that these other columns would have some numbers in them but because we were on break and now we are working largely remotely, we don’t have any cases in school. That gives you some context for the decisions I am making. Obviously there are arguments on all sides of this. Some people would like us to be remote until the end of the year in June and those folks are prioritizing safety perhaps to a fault and some people would look at it and interpret these numbers and say, the potential impact to students’ mental health and well being is such that even with these numbers and a lot of stuff in the red, we should be in school right now. Where I am landing on this is a little bit in between which is we are doing some remote learning for this week and next week and then it is my hope and intention that the numbers get better and we are in a position to come back. It is also my hope and intention…there are a couple corresponding things, I would like to have the K-6th graders in person assuming we can do that safely. The PK is a larger class so the proposed plan is some of those students would be in four days a week and some would rotate in a hybrid model because we can’t have all the students and the teachers and paras in that room. As we get to 7-12th grade, my proposal would be the hybrid model where kids are in school face-to-face for a couple days a week and working remotely other and particularly then for the 7-12th graders a likely version of what we have called cohort A where our highest needs students would be in school four days a week and the other students would be the other way. Some of this has to be negotiated and finalized and worked through. That sort of outlines the direction. I think it makes sense, maybe first respond to school committee questions and then more broadly if there are other ones. B. Fields – I think the data that Peter has shown us is indicative of how complex this whole thing is and I have gotten emails from people talking about our positivity rate. I think he is doing the best he can. I am very concerned with what is going to happen in the next few weeks because the surge from Christmas is just starting. We were in the summer, very low and according to the data, it might be coming down but certainly, if we are having 39 towns that we have some connection with, it would seem to me that we are doing the right thing. We are looking out for our staff, our students; I know it is very difficult and that brings up issues that have been raised by parents about where their students are in regard to academic achievement, etc. but to me safety is the first thing. Learning is made up of more than just information being poured in and poured out. There are opportunities to be made even during this period of time. I think Peter is doing a marvelous job trying to juggle this and he needs all the support he can get from both us and the community. J. St. Peter – I would like to echo what Bill said. Looking at the numbers earlier in the year, it showed we should have been back and unfortunately the numbers show that it is not that way. It is not just the kids, they are affected the most, but we are a community and a village and we have to think of the health and welfare of everyone, the teachers as well as the eldery in our community. I applaud Peter for making these tough decisions. My main question is point of fact. The chart where there are three cases at MBE, three at DuBois and two at the high school, was that staff members, students or both? P. Dillon – it is a combination of both staff and students. What is a little hard is, and I checked in with the nurses on this, that is what we believe to be the case. With people not being in school, we are not sure that it is all bubbling back to us. There is always the possibility that some people are asymptomatic and positive. I am not talking about that. There may be other people who tested positive and the contract tracer hasn’t gotten back to us yet or other things. It is a combination of both. J. St. Peter – just a follow-up, are those cases strictly self-reported or is there a government agency that reports if any of the students or staff are positive. P. Dillon – it is a little of both. What usually happens, Becki can correct me on this, is staff or a parent will self-report it to us and then within hours, the public health nurse will also reach out and reinforce it. Maybe once we heard from the public health nurse before we heard from the person. Becki, is that right? B. Touponce – yes, that is correct. We are always contacted by the public health nurse and usually the families. S. Stephen – who is handing the contact tracing? P. Dillon – the public health nurses do it but we contribute to it within the buildings. If we hear from the public health nurse that patient x tested positive, then usually our nurses put together a report often with things as detailed as a seating chart in a particular classroom or the range of interactions to help the public health nurse get a head start. There is another definition that is 15 minutes of direct contact or 15 minutes within 24 hours or intermittent contact in aggregate. That is the definition of a close contact and then depending on where people fall in that, there are other things to do or actions to take. The classic example of that was at the middle school when we had a class go remote and a group of people get tested. S. Stephen – who is actually making the phone calls though? P. Dillon – the public health nurses. The school principals and nurses can also be involved to a degree in that. One the one hand I am sharing data that is overwhelming. One the other hand, the practices and procedures in the buildings have been really good. Kids by and large do a really good job of following guidelines and being attentive, lots of hand washing and sanitizing and social distancing so I don’t think how we are doing in this is about luck. Sometimes, people say your schools are very lucky. I don’t think it is about luck. There might be some luck but people have been adhering very closely to guidelines. C. Sprague – how do you envision using the testing that the school has access to? P. Dillon – what we have is the Bynex Now Rapid Test. The slight issue with that and Becki, correct me if I misstate this, they are not perfectly accurate so it is a good snapshot at a moment in time. If somebody tests positive, it’s bad that they are testing positive but it is good that we know if very quickly. If somebody tests negative, they still are getting a more formal PCR test because the likelihood of a false negative is a little higher with the quick test. Hopefully when we get back in the buildings, I will be sending a blanket permission slip to parents to participate in it and if we were to do one, we would likely call the parents before we did it to say we have reason to believe it is a good thing to do and are you ok with us doing it. Staff also has to consent but they are grown ups and they can consent on the spot. Separately, and we looked into this and it is interesting, the Governor and the state is also offering pool testing. We participated in a webinar, I am disinclined to sign up for that now because unless we were to hire a set of people to do it discreetly, it might put an impossible burden on our existing staff to do it and it won’t really give us much information then the information we have now. If we were Williams College and we had a huge endowment and unlimited resources, that may be the gold standard for things but I don’t know if it makes sense to do that right now. Z. Holmes, 42 Hollenbeck Avenue, Great Barrington – I am wondering to what extent you can disclose information about when we do have cases across any of the schools as far as confidentiality, exactly how much can each level of exposure be informed. P. Dillon – as a district we have always made a commitment to be transparent. If you are the person that tested positive, you don’t really want to be outed. That is not fair. In the context of the whole contact tracing person, if you are a close contact, so the 15 minute thing I was talking about, then you will be directly contacted that you were a close contact and then you will get directions and in the context of that you would likely quarantine and get tested in the right window. If you are not directly contacted then as a high school student you would just know that there was a case in the high school but because you weren’t seen as a close contact, you were not contacted. It gives you enough information to take action if you need to take action. The slightly challenging thing on this, and people say this in data circles all the time, garbage in garbage out. If the data we base our assumptions on are solid and good, then inferences we draw on them should also be solid and good. If somebody tests positive and reports to the contact tracer that they were in five classes but in fact on that day they were in six classes, then they might have been in closer contact with an additional subset of people, then the contact tracing thing breaks down. One of the challenges for the contact tracers is to really dig in and act two or three times and have people wrack their brain about where they were. L. Hunt, student at Monument – (very difficult to understand; inaudible). P. Dillon – I think what you are asking about is the disciplinary implications or how we might hold people accountable to following guidelines when they are not following them. That is challenging. At the very beginning of this year, the school committee gave the district wide latitude to hold people accountable which ultimately could result in having somebody forfeit the opportunity to do in-person learning and be obligated to work remotely. My hope would be to not go down that path at all but to value each other as a community of learners and friends and colleagues and in a supportive and positive way we would remind each other what our obligations are to each other in the community and if you see somebody not wearing their mask, you say something in a way that doesn’t get you in trouble; you’re not a snitch you just say hey aren’t we all supposed to be wearing masks. If that doesn’t work or makes you uncomfortable, you share it with a teacher or a staff member, if that doesn’t work, it gets kicked up to an administrator and at the end of the line is me and you shoot me an email and say everyday in C period Algebra there is a guy that won’t wear a mask; the next day I drop in on C period algebra and find the person not wearing the mask and I have a conversation with him. I don’t think we will get there. I think a little redirection will probably do it but we do have the authority to exclude from face-to-face learning and have them participate only remotely. We could and will do that. J. Beadell – I wanted to follow up on Dr. Dillon’s remarks about the rapid testing. I was wondering if you could bring clarity to what constitutes the usage of these tests. You mentioned they would be used if there was suspicion or reason for use. Could you walk us through what that looks like. Also, how many tests do we have available to us and how sparingly do we need to use them. P. Dillon – we have tons. That is the good news. We actually got permission from a state lab to be a test site. The three schools in Berkshire Hills plus the Richmond School. There is a medical order from a doctor allowing us to do this and our nurses had to go through a training to do it. One of the conditions of our permission to do the testing is we cannot test people who are asymptomatic. There is something like 10 or 12 potential symptoms, obviously a fever is one, sore throat, etc. To be tested you need to present with one of those. That is the reason that justifies the test. I think we have several hundred in each building. We could get more if we needed more. If you have some sort of symptom on Monday and you get a test and it is positive, the action is obvious. If it is negative you go get another one. If you get back the formal PCR test and that remained negative and at the end of the week you needed another test because you were displaying other symptoms, I think you could get another one. B. Touponce – it is definitely for people that are showing symptoms. You are much more likely to get an accurate result if it is someone who is symptomatic. If someone wants to test so they can travel, that is not a reason to do it. It would be someone we would be sending home with symptoms anyway. They say if you test positive we accept that as a positive result but if you are negative you still have to have a PCR test and quarantine. It is definitely for people who are showing symptoms. P. Dillon – the CDC has a good visual about this where you are exposed, there is a time of incubation, then there is a window to test after that but the fear is you are exposed, you test too soon and you get a negative test so you think you are ok; you are hanging out with your grandmother or someone and then we get into spreading and super spreading. E. Mielke – I am in a really privileged position where being remote does not negatively impact me or my son. He is old enough to stay by himself, he can handle his own schoolwork, most of my work is from home and I am totally in agreement with these sites we are looking at for the rates of testing with high positivity. I will probably opt to have my son remote even after we go back to hybrid because better safe than sorry. I just wanted to make sure that it is in the conversation that the only reason to push for students to be in person is not just because of a worry of missing out on academics or academic decline. It recently came to my attention that there is a population of people, immigrant families and families without adequate internet or socio-economic challenges that are falling through the cracks. I feel like that is important. I wanted to make sure that that is one of the reasons to get kids back in. P. Dillon – there are all sorts of issues around food insecurities and we have been trying to work really hard on that. There are issues around social interaction and what being cooped up means. People are social. A lot of learning for younger kids and all of us, is around social interactions. It is very hard to translate early childhood work into devices. Then there are all sorts of sub populations, students with special needs, English language learners, students with a range of disabilities and cognitive impairments, etc., getting them into school, in the building with interactions, lunch, recess, art, etc. matters tremendously. This is what we are all wrestling with. How do you balance safety with stuff on the other end in some way. S. Stephen – Nurse Becki, when would you give a COVID test in the school? B. Touponce – when would we use the rapid testing? When children or staff have COVID symptoms, what would we send them home for before he had the test: headache, fever over 100, congestion, stuffy nose, GI symptoms, etc. If they had those, they would go home and quarantine for ten days or get a COVID test, a PCR test. Now we have the rapid tests; when someone comes in symptomatic, we can if we have permission from the parents do the rapid test on those students that are symptomatic that we would have sent home anyways. They are going to be going home anyhow but we can test them and if they are positive then the parent is made aware and we would report that as well to the Department of Public Health and DESE. S. Stephen – so when a student or staff member shows up in your office, you would say, can we do a test or call the parent to see if you can do a test? B. Touponce – we would already have a permission slip so we need a parent signature in order to do the test. We can get a verbal ok but it would be best to have a parent signature on file already. Then we would test them. No matter what the result, they would go home because they are symptomatic. Yesterday, we started at DuBois with a vaccination clinic for first responders and that went very well. That is going to continue on Saturday as well. They are all phase one people. The next group will be seniors, teachers, educators, etc. In a month we may be in a significantly better place than we are right now. R. Dohoney – I know educators are not only in the next phase with a priority slot, so all the staff will be required to get vaccinated, correct? P. Dillon – it is a little premature to say that. I am waiting on guidance and that is something to be discussed and negotiated. There are some people who cannot be vaccinated because of a medical condition and one of those is a history of anaphylaxis but other conditions too. The other tension is the time from vaccination to the time to when people are covered. You get some immunity with the first vaccination and additional with the second one and some of that doesn’t kick in. We are in the middle of the most challenging public health thing in probably all our lifetimes and it is nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What I can’t say is it is the light at the end of the tunnel in February or June. There is a light so I am happy about that. I will circle back as I get more guidance. The state gave us guidelines in the summer to plan for the start of school around time and time on learning, etc. Those guidelines were pretty open ended. Then in October they asked us to look at a two-week period in grades 1, 4, 7 and 10 and write what our schedule was. Then they reviewed how we wrote what our schedule was and gave us a conditional pass or do more work. They gave us a conditional pass. Like the state often does, they moved the goal posts several times. The initial guidance was you had to have a certain number of hours and minutes of instruction a week and we exceeded that. We got that conditional pass in all three buildings. Then the revised thing was not only do you have to have a certain total number of hours but you have to have a minimum number of hours on each day and then the kicker to that was whether you are in person, remote or hybrid, then the state made a distinction between synchronous, so live time work or asynchronous work which would be some sort of guided individual study. The structure we came up with and in many ways I am happy about it and actually think it is brillant, which is the four cohorts; Cohort A would be in four days a week, Cohorts B & C would be in alternating Monday/Tuesday, Thursday/Friday and Wednesday was a day for check-ins, cleaning, teacher professional development; Cohort D is the group of students who are working entirely remotely. To make things more complicated, when we started bringing back the elementary school students with the exception of PK, for days a week, we easily far exceeded the minutes but we are a little vulnerable on Wednesdays. That is something we are talking about. This shift to more synchronous time on Wednesday from a state perspective is meant to go into effect next week. We are continuing to talk about it. Different school districts in different contexts came up with different plans. A neighboring district decided to go with half days five days a week. We didn’t do that largely because of bussing considerations and the geography of our three towns made it undoable. Some districts are using Wednesday like we are; some are doing other things. When the state gave us it’s conditional approval that was at a moment in time many months ago so how we are approaching this continues to evolve. There is specific guidance around Wednesdays and what they look like and to varying degrees all our schools on Wednesday do spend some time to check in with kids. At the elementary school, it is more of a morning meeting, the middle and high school is crew and advisory. Over time, that work on Wednesdays may continue to evolve. There is also a challenging distinction where we have been using Wednesdays at some point to target individual kids with specific needs and the state is encouraging us to make those offerings available to all kids. Very much a work in progress. From a staff perspective, we value the Wednesdays to do some cleaning and we also value the Wednesdays to drive and support professional development connected to our learning management system, Canvas, and all the components there and then connected to curriculum work, assessment and case management, checking in on kids and how they are doing and reaching out to parents. Again, this may evolve over time. There is a strong possibility some school committee members may have questions about it or some participants in the meeting may. R. Dohoney – I have no doubt that we are fully compliant with the regulatory scheme and that is fine. That is not really my concern. I want to make sure we are maximizing the experience our students have throughout this up and down roller coaster. I think that is a sentiment shared by a lot of people who have concerns. We just need to do the best by our kids. P. Dillon – the principals and I talk about this regularly as well as regular conversations with teachers too. I think the lesson we learned from this is just as we come up with a plan, the plan needs to continue to evolve. The certainly is this uncertainty. We need to keep tweaking and shifting things to make them better. We will put a lot of energy into that and do that. Some of the hopeful proposals around elementary schools and the early grades in the middle school were born out of this need and desire to get more kids back into face-to-face learning on a regular basis. We have the best plans in the world to do that. We are just limited by the numbers and hopefully we get there soon. I think we have the capacity to shift. We have done it more than I like. I think those conversations will keep going and we will continue to move that forward. Focusing on our youngest kids is important; focusing on our high needs kids is important; focusing on more face-to-face time for all our kids whether it is in face-to-face, hybrid or remote models is also important. A. Hochler – thank you for taking the time to address that tonight because it has definitely been a concern of mine. Knowing that the state guidelines keep changing, I know that is not fair but how do you plan to be in compliance with the face-to-face requirement that starts next week for the kids in the district on Wednesday. P. Dillon – we are working on it. It is by no means totally solved. Some of it is directly subject to negotiation and we will work on that. Some of it is around planning. We have not fully explored this route. We far exceed the face-to-face time on our other days so there is also a route that one could petition the commissioner for a waiver. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. A. Hochler – I have a 1st grader and a 4th grader and they meet with their teachers four days a week in the hybrid model but on Wednesday in the elementary school, it is about ten of the same kids with the same space with the same teacher every single day why do they need that time to turn over the classroom on Wednesday when there isn’t different people in there. In middle school what hybrid has looked like for my son is that Monday and Tuesday he goes to school, he gets 12 hours of instruction; Wednesday he gets a hey how are you doing meeting in the morning. The teachers are thoughtful and care and reach out to him but the interaction is limited. On Thursday and Friday, in the hybrid model, it is still that limited interaction with a list of things to do. Really in fifth grade, my son has been to school 11 days in person and he has three days a week where he is on his own. I think I have been advocating with the teachers who have called me, who have been wonderful and I am trying to extend opportunities for them to no fault of their own. I have called Ben and I have talked to you and the school committee and I have emailed and have spoken and we keep talking about there is an acknowledgement that this needs to get better, but we have been talking about that since October 26th and it is now the middle of January. I would really like before we conclude the meeting today to come up with some actions and a timeline for when this might actually get better. I totally understand that you are in a tough place and we are looking at a 5.6% positivity rate in our district. We looked at Bristol County with their 13% and they are going back to school on Tuesday. I wonder, can we look at some of the data from other districts and see what they look like and maybe consider that. If we can put kids into a classroom everyday and pool test them once a week and get a batch test back negative or positive I think we might be able to feel good about sending our kids to school with peers that are not positive. It might be a way for us to get back into school. P. Dillon – I hear what you are saying. I don’t think we are going to hash out a timeline in this call. It isn’t the right place and there are other implications. Part of the plan is for the 5th and 6th graders to be back four days a week when we get back to school assuming all the pieces fall together. Internally within the district we have had several conversations about what Wednesdays can look like and what else can happen there. We also had conversations about how the virtual days can be more robust. I don’t want to talk to you again a month from now with nothing having changed. I think there will be significant changes in the next several weeks. The interesting thing is the North Shore is a mess and their numbers are through the roof and some of those places are open and some are closed. In Berkshire County right now, as of today, the only district that is open is Richmond which is my other district. Richmond and Lee announced today and Lenox is going back next week. Hancock just closed and they are tiny. A. Hochler – I know it is a hard thing but when the governor addressed the state the other day, he was offering a tool by using the pool testing to allow the kids to go back to school. It is not just for academic reasons. I feel terrible for the kids in our district that have horrible internet connections because they can’t show their faces to their friends because they need to divert the power from the video into the microphone so they can be heard. If we are going to be home in a remote model, it has to be quality. I value that the teachers need the time and I know at the end of the day, my kids are tired. Maybe we could think about shaving an hour off the end of the day for prep time or professional development and add some time on Wednesday so it doesn’t feel like such a waste. P. Dillon – different people characterize it differently but you are not an outlier on this. A. Hochler – I just want to look out for my kids. We talk about unpresented times. That was the spring. We are 310 days into this and we know some things now. I know we are afraid. I was afraid too. P. Dillon – we really looked at the pool testing. The fact they are covering the cost of the test is great but there is this other embedded cost in it that they are not covering and that is the cost of having nurses do the testing. A. Hochler – are they mandating that it is done by a nurse? P. Dillon – yes, there are very clear guidelines around it. I will share it. I think the one exception they made as instead of nurses do it, they are having EMTs do it. I don’t know if it gives us much more than the rapid test gives us right now. The only bummer is the pool testing let’s you target asymptomatic people and the rapid is for symptomatic people. S. Stephen – Nurse Becki, do we have full testing capabilities at any of our schools? B. Touponce – I read about it but I didn’t do the call that Peter and Rhonda, Hillary and Christina did. My understanding is it pretty much tests the entire student body and staff. I am not sure how often, if it is on a weekly basis. I am not sure how many swabs go into one of the pools. Say it is 20 or 30, if that pool comes back positive then each one of those people has to have a test done. That is more testing. S. Stephen – my question is, do we have that capability now? B. Touponce – The nurses in each school wouldn’t have time to do their regular job if we are running around doing pool testing. P. Dillon – we definitely don’t have the capacity to do it. We would have to manage all testing logistics including overseeing administration, software, administer specimen collection for students and staff, administer any follow-up with the testing company, transport the samples to a lab once a day. We just don’t have the capacity. We could contract with somebody to do it. S. Stephen – well, there ya go. P. Dillon – it could be really expensive and I don’t know that it gives us much more useful information than we already have access too. If we were going to spend $200,000, $400,000, $600,000, would you want to spend it on a robusting testing protocol that gives us a little value add or would you want to spend it on tutors, counselors or running an enhanced summer program. There are a whole host of possibilities there. S. Bannon – I think we have had this discussion and we are ready to move on. It has been a good discussion. We have learned a lot and I think we have learned a lot of points of view. R. Dohoney – I know I brought it up at other meetings, we are going to be making budget decisions over the next couple of months and I would like the administration to start putting their heads together on a summer program. P. Dillon – I think that is good. Just a contextual thing; right now we really run two summer programs. We run a program for special needs students who get additional services and then we run Project Connection which is through our 21st Century grant. I think what Rich is talking about and what I will share with the principals and we will look into is, could we do something else in the summer that would be high interest and afford students a wide range of academic and social opportunities. I Think it is worth looking into and we will put some ideas together and come back to you on that.
- Sub Committee Reports:
- Policy Sub Committee – N/A
- Building and Grounds Sub Committee – N/A
- Superintendent’s Evaluation Sub Committee – N/A
- Technology Sub Committee – N/A
- Finance Sub Committee – N/A
- District Consolidation & Sharing Sub-Committee – N/A
- Personnel Report:
- Retirement(s) – P. Dillon – three people are retiring. I really would like to thank all three of them for their service. They all work in different roles and have been in the district for quite some time and they are all really quite special. One is Scott Annand who is currently a teacher at the high school and had been the assistant principal there. He has been really impactful. We talk about at MMHRS that statue and how you make your mark on Monument. It is clear that Scott has had real impact there. He is not going just yet but is at the end of June. We will celebrate him in this unusual year and really appreciate what he has done. Cathy Bourquard has been with the district for a long time too. She works in accounts payable and she is why people get paid on time; not individuals as much as vendors, scholarship, etc. and I would like to recognize her service. She is going a little earlier in March and she has been a real asset to the district. The third one is at the high school, Nancy Banach. She is a paraprofessional and has been here a long time as well. She comes with the same energy today as she had on her first day dozens of years ago. She is a wonderful person and cares deeply about young people and her colleagues. It is sad when people retire but it is also a celebration and a testament of their work. I would like to acknowledge those three people. When you see them remotely, say something nice and when we start seeing each other again in person, say something nice socially distant.
- Extra-Curricular Appointment(s)
- Business Operation
- Education News
- Old Business
- New Business
- Public Comment
- Written Communication
MOTION TO ADJOURN – R. DOHONEY SECONDED: M. THOMAS ACCEPTED: UNANIMOUS
Meeting Adjourned at 7:50pm Submitted by: Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary