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High Covid numbers at schools start to relent, as staff steps up

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Infections in schools very high compared to a month ago but less than in town as a whole.

-- Elizabeth Homan

UPDATED: Covid numbers are starting to head down while staffers have been stepping up, the School Committee learned Thursday, Jan. 13, in the shortest meeting of the past 18 months – just over one hour.

“2022 has made quite a dramatic entrance,” Superintendent Elizabeth Homan said, with a “significant uptick in cases” since December.

Infection incidence within Arlington Public Schools is very high compared to what it was a month ago but remains less than in the town as a whole, according to Homan. She said it has been “a challenging week and a half” coming back from winter break but that the “effort to get kids back in person” has been successful.

“There is no significant evidence of [Covid-19] spread in the schools,” she said.

According to Homan, positive cases in the schools, reported as of each Friday, stand as follows: 

  • 169 on Jan. 14,
  • 306 on Jan. 7,
  • 225 on Dec. 31,
  • 88 on Dec. 24,
  • 29 on Dec. 17 and
  • 21 on Dec. 10.
Employee absences

To cope with employee absences, central-office staff and campus deans have been pitching in to do everything from taking over classes to running cash registers in the cafeterias. Moreover, the district, as it had hoped, has recruited college students now home on leave as temporary substitute teachers.

Asked to detail staff absences, Homan wrote Jan. 14: "On a 'typical' day, we can expect between 5-8% of staff to be absent; it varies day to day, and rates go up when there are Covid surges or small outbreaks. For the past two weeks, we have consistently had staff absences ranging from 14-18%."

Campuses now have more high-quality KN95 masks for staffers and students, but any mask is acceptable so long as it is close-fitting and worn over both nose and mouth, Homan said. The district is also in the process of acquiring an estimated 9,000 home test kits. 

“I want to say thank you to Dr. Homan and the entire incredible APS team,” for their overall pandemic-mitigation efforts, said committee member Liz Exton.

Schools continue to use the “test-to-return” protocol as per town, state and federal standards, and a Covid test site now operates at Arlington High School from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, though not this coming Monday, as schools will be closed for Martin Luther King Day.

If you test positive

A person who has tested positive may come back to campus on day 11 after the result is known. Alternatively, such a person may return as early as day six, but only if meeting the following requirements:

  • Can show a negative result on a rapid-antigen test;
  • Has had no fever for at least 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medication;
  • Has seen a notable reduction in all other illness symptoms and
  • Continues to mask everywhere, even at home, except to eat, bathe and sleep.

See agenda Covid documents >> 

Budget total acknowledged rather than accepted

Committee members reviewed a preliminary budget proposal for the upcoming 2022-2023 budget year, calling for $84,447,869. This total includes a one-time infusion of $970,000 intended to ease the burden of coping with the continuing pandemic.

“We’re getting into a period of tighter budgeting” and need to “think more strategically,” committee member Len Kardon said. A chart showed budget totals for recent previous years as follows: 

  • $71,427, 139 in 2020,
  • $75,570,531 in 2021 and
  • $80,104,634 in 2022.

The chart also shows the appropriations to the schools from the town.

Members briefly advocated for special education, librarians, social workers and for fair salaries for both teachers and paraprofessionals, noting that contract negotiations are coming up.

Kardon asked that the committee “acknowledge this [proposed 2022-2023] figure rather than accept it,” and the vote was unanimous. The committee “needs to have more discussions,” he said. 

AHS studies, evaluation, land acknowledgment

In other business, the committee:

  • Heard from AHS Vice Principal William McCarthy about the program of studies. Among the changes are the addition of personal finance and introduction to architecture, full-year availability of painting, a vegetarian version of the “cooking and living on your own” class, and expansion of advanced-placement physics and of film-study offerings. Three courses will be dormant for one year: astronomy, JavaScript and artificial intelligence. Gone are Power and Protest plus an early morning sports class, as these are no longer popular, McCarthy said.
  • Approved a memorandum of agreement about educator evaluation, applicable for the rest of the current school year.
  • Approved the schedule of committee meetings for the upcoming school year; the committee retains the power to alter that schedule as necessary going forward.
  • Approved land-acknowledgment statements  to be used at major events so as to ensure public awareness of the original inhabitants of what is now Arlington.
  • Approved wording changes to a document concerning surplus space policies for extended-day programs.
  • Reappointed Laura Swan to the transportation advisory committee for another four years.

The committee opened its meeting at its usual time of 6:30 p.m. and adjourned at 7:38 pm.


Dec. 17, 2021: Committee hears Covid update, gets initial budget memo


This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, and updated, to include ranges for employee absences.

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