80% threshold: the vaccination rate is necessary to put an end to masks in schools | New
WILMINGTON – The school committee met last Wednesday evening to welcome new staff before receiving the superintendent’s report and the fairness check proposal.
Beginning with the public comments, two residents spoke. The first commentator shared data suggesting that vaccinated students will be the most protected against the Delta COVID-19 variant. She also spoke about the reality of the long COVID, where symptoms persist even for up to a year after a positive test. She suggested that a good threshold for making masks optional would be when 80% of a school is vaccinated.
The second commentator referred to a public record from a WPS employee who wrote in an email about various authors. He claimed that diversity, equity and inclusion are part of a twisted ideology that introduces racism to students.
The Superintendent, Dr. Glenn Brand, began by thanking all of the new staff who have just been hired or changed jobs in the district. He posted the names of six new staff at Boutwell Early Childhood Center, eight at Wildwood Street School, 10 at Shawsheen Street School, three at Woburn Street, five north, six west, 10 at college, and 16 in high school.
In his regular report, he shared that the first week saw a strong opening. Although there were some scheduling and transportation issues, he said everything has been sorted out. He thanked all the staff for the work done to prepare the classrooms and spaces and to follow the required training.
The next point he made was an update on the health and safety requirements of the Ministry of Elementary and Secondary Education. The mask’s term currently runs until October 1. He also referred to an 80 percent vaccination threshold for the end of the mask’s tenure.
He added that the COVID tracker would be operational again from last year and that cleaning and disinfection would continue. As for the COVID-19 testing program Wilmington had applied for, he promised more information as soon as it was released.
Another part of his report allowed the committee to nominate Brand to the SEEM Collaboration Board, which they did.
The only update he had with the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s process for the new Wildwood school was to say that they had more information to share with the MSBA by the September deadline.
The last part of the report dealt with the construction plans of the Department of Public Works for the fall and summer. Director of Administration and Finance Paul Ruggiero mentioned the construction of the Shawsheen tennis court, the high school track and the roof tiles of the Woburn Street school.
School committee member MJ Byrnes thanked DPW for keeping the town’s aging buildings as friendly and inviting as possible. President Jenn Bryson also thanked the families who helped create chalk art outside of schools for younger students.
The committee then went through the first reading of the School Wellbeing Policy, which they mentioned saw some changes at their subcommittee meeting earlier. David Ragsdale listed the slight changes they made that night.
Melissa Plowman asked what it means to have “joint use agreements with community partners”. Brand replied that he was reading this as opportunities for collaboration. Byrnes suggested that one or two examples might make this clearer.
Brand’s last proposal for the night suggested a third-party equity audit that would be paid for by funds saved for the strategic plan. He reminded the community of the Strategic Plan’s commitment to “promote an inclusive culture that embraces diversity to provide an equitable educational experience”.
While the city just hired a diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator, he maintained that the audit could not be done in-house.
He also named the surrounding districts that had recently completed fairness audits.
“An equity audit is a benchmarking tool that assesses diversity, equity and inclusion for schools and organizations,” he continued.
Data that the audit could use could be observations, school climate data, policy reviews, report cards, evaluation data, and focus group sessions.
Byrnes commented that she would like to see the proposal come back with a specific cost.
Jay Samaha said he appreciated the research and thinking behind the Superintendent’s proposal.
Jesse Fennelly asked if the audit would still be on track if they were to bring the proposal back, and Brand said that would be good.
“I don’t know how many experienced consultants there are or how busy they are at the moment,” he added.
Ragsdale developed the rationale for having a third party audit. He estimated that the coordinator would divide his time in Wilmington among five other districts and would not have enough time to complete this audit. He said he was eagerly awaiting the forensic examination of the district’s practices.
Plowman also added other areas the audit might shed light on: equity and opportunities for students with different types of disabilities. She hopes there will still be tax considerations. Brand reiterated that they would use the money allocated for the strategic plan.
Bryson said, “This represents one of the most important commitments to the strategic plan. Jo Newhouse also shared his own support for the proposal.
The only report from the subcommittee came from the Wilmington Educational Fund group via Plowman, who shared that they were looking for a treasurer.
The school committee will meet again on September 22 at 7 p.m. in the WHS media room.