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Remote academy to remain an option; 3 feet between desks possible.

The School Committee has directed administrators to create a plan for full, on-campus instruction in spring, including a possible move to three feet between desks for grades K-8.

This plan would not commit Arlington Public Schools to adopt this reduced distance or give a precise deadline for its possible implementation. Nor would it scrap before June the “remote academy by choice,” by which some students, per their parents’ request, learn completely remotely.

Since September under Arlington’s hybrid system, desks are kept at least six feet apart, which means that currently no child is on campus more than two days a week save for the most high-needs special-education students, who may attend up to four days a week.

The unanimous vote came after heated discussion during which members praised teachers and supported widespread Covid-19 vaccinations -- and criticized Massachusetts officials for demanding five-day-a-week in-person instruction while refusing to supply shots to on-campus staffers.

I’m worried about our teachers right now. We are not OK. I feel like we’re playing a game of Jenga – and the tower’s gonna fall.”                 -- Julianna Keyes, AEA president

Before the vote, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie reiterated the district’s plan, voted in January, to have all grades full time on campus in September. She said that kindergartners are expected to return to campus full time imminently, and that grades one and two are set to follow as soon as teachers have access to vaccines.

The committee vote was partly in response to recent statements from the governor and state education commissioner that schools must move to all-on-campus learning by April. Many local residents, including four who spoke briefly at the meeting, are also seeking this.

“The state is bullying us. [Gov. Charlie Baker] has taken vaccines away from the town,” said committee member Paul Schlichtman. “Politicians are going to war against teachers’ unions. These are kindergarten teachers, not Teamsters.”

Local teacher union head Julianna Keyes said her colleagues are short-staffed and stressed-out, especially with no date in sight for employee vaccination. “I’m worried about our teachers right now. We are not OK,” she said. “I feel like we’re playing a game of Jenga – and the tower’s gonna fall.”

Open to conditions

Len Kardon, who made the successful motion to seek a plan, noted that Bodie and her colleagues could put whatever conditions they wish into the plan and that committee members could likewise amend it.

Testing, masking and all other current protective protocols should continue regardless of the numbers of days of on-campus learning, member Jeff Thielman said. Member Liz Exton suggested that additional personal protective equipment and enhanced ventilation be provided at least until vaccination becomes more available.

Member Kirsi Allison-Ampe, who is a medical doctor, said her reading of medical documents indicates that the variant strains of the virus tend to be more infectious in minors. For that reason, she believes that even universal vaccination of adult staffers might not be enough to completely protect everyone. 

“Just because we want [traditional schooling] so much does not mean it is safe. Just because we want it so much does not mean it is the right thing to do,” she said.

She asked that both the school-district counsel and the town counsel attend a School Committee meeting next month. Schlichtman asked that town health officials do likewise. 

Kardon's motion reads: "As part of the report on options and planning taking place to expand in-person instruction during the current [2020-21] school year, which is to be provided to the School Committee by March 11, 2021, the superintendent is directed to include an option with plans to implement in full in-person learning at grades K-8, with desks no less than three feet apart, including maintaining the option for full remote learning for families who want it."

AEA contract, public comment, Covid testing and data

In other business:

  • The committee voted unanimously to approve a one-year contract with the Arlington Education Association, the union representing teachers. This is expected to be online soon
  • On a split vote, 5-1-1 – Exton voting no, Kardon abstaining – the text of future agendas will request that persons speaking during the public-comment section at the start of each meeting be visible on camera whenever possible. See a document here >> 
  • The committee voted, 7-0, to adopt the program of studies for Arlington High School for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. See documents here >> 
  • AHS Principal Matthew Janger gave a report indicating that the number of disciplinary incidents, such as detentions and suspensions, have gone down steadily over three recent years, from 2017 through 2020.
  • Bodie noted that the district’s complete, detailed budget or “budget book” is now available online, two weeks before the March 11 public hearing, as required. See the budget book here >> 
  • Janger and Bodie jointly reported that testing for Covid-19 infection – specifically the “pool testing” modality, self-administered and anonymous – is now mandatory for competitive AHS athletes.
  • Pool testing of students has just been expanded to nearly everyone in grades K-8, with results now reported weekly. These are visible online at 
  • Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. volunteered to act as district liaison to the town LGBTQIA+ Rainbow Commission and was appointed as such by unanimous committee vote. The commission was established in 2017 to promote equality-affirming policies.
See the ACMi video of the Feb. 25 meeting:

Feb. 13, 2021: September start date pushed one day later; budget plan at $87.2M

This news summary by YourArlington freelance journalist Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, Feb. 26, 2021,