Written by Judith Pfeffer
‘No evidence of transmission in schools,’ Bodie says
Reopening plans for AHS ‘going on all guns.’– Principal Matthew Janger
The quarantine period for a student with a positive result for Covid-19 in local public schools has been reduced, bringing Arlington into conformity with state policy announced late last month.
“We are prepared to align with that,” Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said at the Thursday, April 29, regular School Committee meeting. “That is in effect now.”
She emphasized that there is “no evidence of transmission in our schools,” that ongoing weekly voluntary student participation in testing averages 90 percent and that the latest such testing session found no positive results.
Any student found to be positive will stay home and be encouraged to take a Covid test on day five of the quarantine. If the result is negative, that student is to return on day eight. This is consistent with new guidelines from Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health and its Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
“I welcome what came out this week from DESE — it makes sense,” Bodie said.
Late last month, DESE ruled that public high schools must open May 17 unless a waiver is sought and granted. Arlington Public Schools had decided weeks ago to phase in grades nine through 12 a week earlier than that — May 6 through May 10. Meanwhile, younger students returned to five-day-a-week on-campus instruction last month.
On-campus return going well, principals say
Plans for the reopening of Arlington High School are “going on all guns,” said Principal Matthew Janger at the meeting. Approximately 85 percent of the student body will be on the traditional five-day-a-week schedule, with the remainder studying remotely and simultaneously with the help of computers, microphones and speakers being provided to the teachers.
He said that 60 percent of seniors are already vaccinated, that any person age 16 or older is now eligible for Covid-19 shots and that an on-campus vaccine clinic is scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 12.
Nor are social activities being neglected. He anticipates hosting an in-person graduation ceremony, a “prom-like event” and up to six movie nights.
At Ottoson Middle School, more than 70 percent of the seventh and eighth graders are studying full time on campus, with the balance still remote, Principal Brian Meringer told the committee. After-school activities are also taking place, so that “kids have things to look forward to,” he said.
Gibbs School, educating sixth graders, now has 365 students on campus and 126 remote. “The kids are happy to be back,” said Principal Fabienne Pierre-Maxwell. “We are at capacity, but it is quite manageable.”
There ain’t no cure for the summer-school blues?
The priority for instruction in summer remains focused on those “who are in the most need of support,” as in the past, according to Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. It will cover all grades, with the emphasis at the high-school level on credit recovery.
The district probably will not have live, in-person classes strictly for enrichment, but material will be available online, he said. Organizations outside of Arlington Public Schools likely will offer enrichment opportunities.
The district’s continuing challenge is finding enough qualified teachers willing to run on-campus classes for English-language learners. Currently, it seems that these will be offered only online at the elementary level, which Jane Morgan termed “disappointing,” and Paul Schlichtman described as “an equity issue,” given that these students may be among those having the least access to technology.
As at the previous meeting when this subject came up, MacNeal said the district would do its best. “We’re doing everything that we can. I don’t think it’s a pay issue,” but, rather, has more to do with the cumulative effect of the 14-month pandemic on teachers’ energy level and morale. “They need to take a break,” he said.
Speaking for the Arlington Education Association, Sif Ferranti concurred. “It’s been tremendously stressful this year,” she said. “Teachers are exhausted.”
Meanwhile, The Boston Globe reported May 1 that Massachusetts will dedicate more than $70 million for enhanced summer programs in response to reports of widespread learning loss during the pandemic. The funding will allow school districts and community organizations to set up both classroom and recreational programs for students of all grade levels.
In other business
- The committee voted unanimously to approve dedicating a space in a large new classroom in the anticipated new building at the high school to the outgoing superintendent, who is retiring in June. “We look forward to an in-person dedication [ceremony] next year when the space actually exists,” Morgan said. Bodie described herself as “deeply moved, very grateful and quite humbled,” adding, “I know what a team effort it has been to get to where we are today.”
- The committee voted to in essence give a partial refund on fees for some athletes, with participation costs going forward to go down from $700 to $575 for hockey, from $600 to $475 for gymnastics and from $600 to $500 for skiing. Kirsi Allison-Ampe abstained from the vote, saying that the matter affects her family.
- In her report, Bodie provided April 26 enrollment numbers. See the document >>
- In closed session held after 9 p.m., the committee adopted a memorandum of agreement with the union representing administrators, Chair Bill Hayner confirmed Friday, April 30. He declined to provide details.
YourArlington.com has provided news and opinion about Arlington, Mass., since 2006. Publisher Bob Sprague is a former editor at The Boston Globe, Boston Herald and Arlington Advocate. Read more at https://www.yourarlington.com/about.