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School chief recommends masks for on-campus students, staff, visitors

Covid-19 image
“This is the first arrow that we’re shooting at a moving target.” 

-- Elizabeth Homan

Committee to vote later this month

UPDATED, Aug. 19: In her first School Committee meeting as superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth C. Homan on Thursday, Aug. 12, recommended all students, staff members and visitors be required to wear masks when indoors on campus regardless of Covid-19 vaccination status. At the meeting, and in written materials made publicly available earlier, Homan noted that this is in accordance with current Centers for Disease Control guidelines and also in alignment with plans in many neighboring communities.

School Committee logo

Per the proposed plan, masks must also be worn on district buses, whose windows will be open when weather permits, and with children in assigned seats. Buses will be cleaned daily.

People of all ages should provide their own masks, but extras will be available for free at all campuses. Some exceptions to masking may be possible on a case-by-case basis for individuals with health conditions or disabilities that make mask-wearing difficult or impossible.

In addition, Homan recommended that all on-campus employees be required either to be vaccinated or else to produce a negative result from a Covid-19 PCR test on a weekly basis. 

The seven-member committee expects to vote on the matter at its next meeting, later this month.

Protocols could be adjusted later

Homan said health-and-safety protocols could be loosened or tightened later in the school year in response to local conditions in the ongoing pandemic. Classes for all children in Arlington Public Schools, prekindergarten through 12th grade, are set to start Sept. 9.

According to Homan, a vaccination rate of 90 percent or more and/or a participation rate in weekly “pool testing” of 90 percent or more are among the conditions that might lead to more leniency with mask-wearing. Parents have been asked to give written consent for pool testing – wherein each child tests individually and the swabs from each class are combined, then analyzed anonymously – and more than 2,000 families have already complied, she said.

“This is the first arrow that we’re shooting at a moving target,” Homan said.It’s shifting ground that we are standing on, and we are ready to pivot if we need to.” She said that the district is on track for a “full, consistent, in-person return,” with the top goal to create and establish an equitable, inclusive and safe learning environment for all.

Her recommendations call for more flexibility in classroom seating than previously. Desks need no longer be 3 feet apart at all times, nor must they always be front-facing. And younger pupils may return to sitting on rugs on the floor when deemed appropriate by their teachers.

Recommendations for lunch period

Lunchtime, when masks obviously must be dropped, will require students staying with their class, cohort or learning community, with assigned seating when indoors, and with 6 feet maintained between groups in grades six and below. The situation is more flexible for grades seven through 12, as this age group is eligible for vaccination, whereas those younger than age 12 are not. Homan said that a large percentage of students in grades 7 through 12 are vaccinated but did not provide numbers.

Per her plan, lunch will be outdoors when weather permits for all grades. Speech, language and musical-performance courses at all grade levels will meet outside whenever possible.

Homan said that all campuses are in great shape with regard to ventilation and air purification, and all have sufficient facilities for hand-washing and hand sanitizing.

Students and staffers who feel sick in any way should not come to campus and should obtain a PCR test to check for Covid-19. Any positive result will require staying home for 10 days, though this could change depending on policies from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “We will be constantly reassessing,” Homan said.

Committee members respond

Committee members seemed generally accepting of what they heard.

Kirsi Allison-Ampe, who is a medical doctor, asked for more detail about policies related to families who take their children out of the area for vacation and then return them to school. “We need to be clear what we are requesting families to do,” Allison-Ampe said.

Jane Morgan wanted more clarity about what it would take to lessen mask use. “There are [social, emotional and academic] costs to universal masking,” she said, especially with children who are deaf, have other disabilities or are English-language learners.

Paul Schlichtman wanted to know what would happen if the local Covid-19 situation should at some point change for the worse and necessitate more restrictions.

“Vaccinations are the way we will get out of this [pandemic],” said Christine Bongiorno, the town’s director of health and human services. 

Enrollment, METCO

In other business, it was reported that:

  • Enrollment is trending slightly upward, with 101 more students expected districtwide, including more kindergartners and more third-graders but fewer first-graders and fewer second-graders. This is in comparison to the equivalent numbers as of Oct. 1, 2020, early in the previous school year. Updated figures are expected by Sept. 9, the first day of classes. Here are numbers as of Aug. 3 >>
  • The district now has an assistant principal at each of the seven elementary-school campuses as well as some new administrators at the coordinator and director levels.
  • The district is actively searching for someone to lead the METCO program, through which disadvantaged young people of color from Boston voluntarily attend Arlington schools; a decision may be reached later this month. METCO stands for the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, and Arlington was among the first to participate, in 1966.
  • The district has received an award of $20,755 from the Symmes Memorial Fund for “updating and improving Arlington Public Schools Elementary Human Growth and Development Curriculum and Grades 4 and 5 Health Curriculum.” The fund was founded with proceeds from the dissolution of Symmes Hospital in Arlington and now provides annual grants to organizations serving the Arlington community and its medical needs.
  • The committee voted, 7-0, to approve the latest job description for the district data coach. This position will be within the Arlington Education Association bargaining unit, according to Human Resources Director Robert Spiegel. See the job description >>
  • The committee voted unanimously to raise the spending ceiling by $900,000, to $4 million, for the LABBB Collective. See the budget plan >> LABBB stands for Lexington, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford and Belmont (Arlington and four of its neighboring municipalities). According to its website, its mission is to design and deliver special-education services that promote academic, social and career independence in the most inclusive settings possible. The request memo stated, "We are requesting our capital plan to be increased to fund future transportation capital expenditures, improvements to our internal IT systems and infrastructure, classroom updates and other unexpected building costs where LABBB utilizes space in the host district."
Names to notice

School Committee Secretary Elizabeth Diggins reported:

New assistant principals

Nicole Schwartz, Brackett

Evan Liner, Bishop

Olivia Wilson, Peirce

Peggy Tsatsoulis, Hardy

Samantha Karustis, Dallin

Stephanie Greiner, Gibbs

Chrisna Chevalier, Thompson 

New directors, coordinators

Margaret Credle Thomas, director of diversity, equity and inclusion

Rashmi Pimprikar, director of digital learning

Doreen Crowe, director of nursing, prekindergarten-12

Rena Mello, middle school special education cordinator

Watch the meeting broadcast by ACMi:


Aug. 12 draft plan documents >>

 

Aug. 1-11, 2021: RETURN TO CLASSES: Public schools, town services update draft health report
 
'GBH, Aug. 10, 2021: 100 Breakthrough Coronavirus Cases In Mass. Have Ended In Death
 
Business Insider: A New Orleans children's hospital doctor says reopening schools without masks is a 'formula for disaster' as COVID-19 rages in Louisiana 

Fast Company, Aug. 11, 2021: Delta is raging. Is it really safe to send children back to the classroom?

 


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, and updated to add further bullet points. A link to enrollment was added Aug. 15. Names were added Aug. 16. An ACMi vidoe window was added Aug. 19.

 

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