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Reopening plan for public schools draws unanimous board support

Covid-19 image
One resident objected strongly to the mask requirement.

'Test-and-stay' protocol outlined

UPDATED, Aug. 29: The School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday, Aug. 24, to approve the reopening plan for Arlington Public Schools, whose classes are to start Sept. 9. The plan was substantially the same as a draft version presented at the previous meeting, Aug. 12.

School Committee logo

Before the vote, Superintendent Elizabeth Homan emphasized the following:

  • Covid-19 vaccination is required for all staffers and in-classroom volunteers;
  • Masks are required for everyone when indoors regardless of vaccination status;
  • Students may play unmasked during outdoor recess with anyone they wish;
  • Classes will meet outdoors when practical in cases where removal of masks is “instructionally beneficial” (typically, music and speech courses); and
  • Lunch is to be eaten outdoors as weather permits.
No mask called better

No concerns were expressed during the meeting proper. However, one local resident complained strongly about the masking requirement during public comment; this took place at the beginning of the meeting and, by standard practice, received no response.

Brian Corcoran of Everett Street spoke briefly about what he considers the unacceptable social-emotional cost of required mask-wearing.

"All else being equal, no mask is better than wearing a mask, and we should only do so in exchange for some benefit," he said, noting later: “What we did to our children and ourselves last year [hybrid schedule] was in exchange for no measurable benefit. The impact will last for years, if not forever.”

Details were given publicly for the first time on the “test-and-stay” protocol. Close contacts of people who test positive may continue to attend classes under the following circumstances:

  • They are asymptomatic;
  • They submit to a daily rapid antigen test (such as BinaxNOW) and test negative;
  • They continue to wear masks as required;
  • They participate in the routine pool testing that is strongly encouraged for all students; and
  • They quarantine themselves outside of school and home (no going to parks, shops, etc.).
Symptoms listed

Likely Covid-19 symptoms, according to the state, are as follows, Homan said: 

  • Chills;
  • Shaking;
  • Fever of 100 or higher;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • New loss of taste and/or smell; and
  • Otherwise-unexplained muscle aches, body aches or coughing.
From page 26 of the administration's 30-page report:  "All unvaccinated staff will be able to submit an exemption request form and will be required to submit a weekly negative Covid-19 test."

So far, Homan said, families of 70 percent of students have submitted permission for pool testing, which involves all children conducting their own nasal swabs, which are then combined with those of their peers and tested anonymously and, usually, weekly. Homan and some committee members have stated previously that their goal is for 90-percent participation in pool testing.

Homan said students who test positive for Covid-19 must stay home for 10 days and then return once there is no fever, no use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in symptoms.

Travel concerns

An issue of continuing concern is about travel. The district strongly recommends the following measures for students who travel out of Massachusetts and then come back to campus:

  • Be vaccinated, if possible;
  • Wear masks indoors whether in the commonwealth or elsewhere;
  • Test for Covid-19 the first day back at school;
  • Test for Covid-19 on day five back at school; and
  • Be actively monitored by adults for any of the listed symptoms.

Committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, who is a medical doctor, asked whether returning travelers could be made to be tested daily for several days after their return. Teachers’ union president Julianna Keyes said this would not be feasible given the relatively small number of school nurses and the many students likely to go out of state, especially around Thanksgiving.

Committee member Paul Schlichtman asked that the Middlesex League, which governs competitive athletics, be encouraged to set a policy that vaccinations be required for all its players, especially given that the Pfizer vaccine now has permanent approval.

Committee member Jeff Thielman asked for data to be compiled and analyzed on students’ academic and social-emotional states as assessed in the first six weeks of classes. Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. said that the administration would prepare and present such a report.

See the agenda documents related to the plan >>

MacNeal and Homan briefly discussed enrollment. Many students have recently enrolled for the first and second grades. Moreover, 35 kindergartners will start that grade at the age of 6 rather than the traditional age of 5.

See the agenda documents about enrollment >>
METCO director

Richelle Smith has been appointed director of the METCO program, which Arlington has participated in since 1966, to bring children of color from Boston to attend Arlington schools if they wish to. Besides her college degrees, social-work experience and strong recommendations, Smith is a former METCO parent herself, Homan said.

No significant damage from Hurricane Henri was suffered at district property, but there was some flooding earlier in the month at Gibbs School (housing sixth graders) and at parking lots at Arlington High School. Thielman, who heads the facilities and high school rebuilding subcommittees, asked Homan to bring this problem to the attention of the design team for the ongoing rebuilding of the high school.

Chat dates

Committee member Liz Exton briefly presented the draft schedule of the dozen community chat dates set to take place virtually in the upcoming school year. Most are scheduled at 11 a.m. Saturdays; however, two are on weekdays. See the schedule >>

The guidelines for the chats now make clear that the intent is for "sharing big-picture ideas," Exton said, rather than for airing individual issues involving specific staff members, parents or students. Chair Bill Hayner noted that no committee vote was necessary on this matter.  

The committee went into executive session at 7:48 p.m. after a meeting lasting about 75 minutes.

Watch the meeting broadcast by ACMi:


Aug. 13, 2021: School chief recommends masks for on-campus students, staff, visitors

 


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. It was updated Aug. 27, to add ACMi video window and on Aug. 27 and 28, to update the quotes attributed to Brian Corcoran. Also on Aug. 29, to add information about chat dates.

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