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Public schools restore indoor-mask rule; DEI job on hold

School Committee logo 'Our No. 1 priority is to make sure we stay open for in-person learning.'

-- Superintendent Homan

Teens and those who work with them now must wear masks indoors at public schools as the Town of Arlington rides the wave of Covid-19 cases, the School Committee learned at its regular meeting Thursday, May 12.

This is the situation even though some 90 percent of students in grades seven through 12 are vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus, according to the Arlington Public Schools’ “dashboard,” or specialized website that displays current and historical data related to the ongoing pandemic.

“The rates are high enough” that returning to required masking at several campuses is needed to ensure that in-person classes continue, Superintendent Elizabeth Homan told the six members present. Jeff Thielman was absent.

“Our No. 1 priority is to make sure we stay open for in-person learning,” Homan said.

Ottoson Middle School and Arlington High School, comprising grades seven through 12, now have mandatory masking. Those on campus at Dallin, grades K-5, continue to have to wear masks indoors, as does Menotomy Preschool, which has never yet lifted the mandate due to the age of the pupils, who are not yet eligible for vaccination. Bishop School, grades K-5, is now under mandate. On the other hand, Gibbs School, serving grade 6, no longer must wear masks -- but they are strongly recommended there and at the other five elementary schools.

Homan noted that some exemptions can be made for extenuating circumstances. “Each situation is unique,” she said. APS continues to work closely with the town’s health department, and with its nursing staff, who were honored recently for their work.

According to the dashboard, which updates continually, the total incidence rate at APS campuses was 255 cases a week ago and stands at 207 today -- the highest since January. 

Concerns for disabled slows hiring for key post

In an unusual move, the committee decided to hold off on approving a district job description, opting instead to refer it to the appropriate subcommittee. The position at issue is a new one, a specialist for diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. The district already has a DEI director, Margaret Credle Thomas.

Administrators had hoped to start advertising the opening immediately to get a head start on attracting the best candidates as early as possible. The matter will now go to the curriculum, instruction, assessment & accountability subcommittee, headed by Jane Morgan, set to meet Friday, May 20. Historically, the committee generally approves recommendations from its subcommittees.

In something else rarely seen in the past two years, some speakers referred to a speaker during the public comment portion of the meeting. By longstanding practice, no board member or administrator responds to what is said in public comment, which is always at or toward the start of the agenda.

See he job description here >> 

Local resident Cheryl Miller described herself and both her children at APS as disabled. She said the DEI specialist job description – which Homan said had been amended very recently – still gave inadequate emphasis to the disabled community.

Miller referred to an article published earlier this year that was coauthored by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts.

“Ableism is pervasive,” Miller said. “Think more inclusively about inclusion.” She said persons with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined, less likely to graduate and to suffer from “othering.”

Recent presentations to the committee on special education portray the disabled population at higher than 10 percent of the total student body and pointed out that a significant proportion of these individuals are neurodiverse, having conditions such as autism, ADHD and dyslexia.

“I would be more comfortable if something overt were added,” said committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe. “A little more work needs to be done.” Morgan said that the risk of waiting two more weeks would be less than the risk of rushing ahead. The next committee meeting is scheduled for May 26.

In other business
  • The committee voted unanimously to endorse a resolution also supported by the Arlington Education Association and the Massachusetts Teachers Association. This is the Fair Share Amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a measure on the November ballot that if passed would impose more state income tax on those with incomes $4 million or higher. AEA head Julianna Keyes said that passage would provide increased funds for public transportation, on which many education employees depend, as well as universal prekindergarten and other important causes.
  • Homan said APS was working to provide more availability of after-school care as well as looking into the possibility of instituting before-school care. Demand has been increasing, particularly at the Hardy and Thompson elementary campuses, and wages have been hiked to attract more candidates. “I hope we can bring the before-school program to fruition,” said Committee Chair Liz Exton, noting that many parents are educators, health-care employees and others who typically begin work before 8 a.m. See the after-school documents >> 
  • Hiring continues for several high-level vacancies. Finalist interviews are imminent for the director of wellness and the director of visual arts. Initial interviews are this week for the post of special-education coordinator at the high school. Two job descriptions have just been posted: director of history/social studies and assistant principal at Brackett.
  • Committee member Bill Hayner made a brief report about having recently observed third-graders at Dallin School as they conducted a mock Town Meeting. Among their actions was voting to impose fines for littering. Hayner said the teachers the and students did a fantastic job.

The committee went into closed session at 7:40 p.m., with no report of action expected. 


April 29, 2022: Pandemic shifts views of school discipline to improving mental health
 

This summary by YourArlington freelance writer Judith Pfeffer was published Saturday, May 14, 2022.

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