Arlington Public School nurses, January 2022Arlington Public School nurses in January.

Covid-testing protocol changes Tuesday

The School Committee heard mostly good news at its meeting Thursday, Jan. 27: The pandemic appears to be receding, enrollment is up, more money is coming in and the bill to dissolve a no-longer-needed area agency is lower than expected.

Covid-19 cases are markedly down in Arlington Public Schools, while testing protocols are to change somewhat beginning Tuesday, Feb. 1, the committee learned.

Superintendent Elizabeth Homan reported the infection figures, which are listed weekly on successive Fridays, as follows:

  • Jan. 28: 27;
  • Jan. 22: 138;
  • Jan. 14: 269; and
  • Jan. 7: 311.

“It’s wonderful to have more staff and students back in school,” she said. As she has stated frequently in the past, she reiterated that the pandemic is “not spreading in the schools.”

Testing at home

The biggest change is that parents are now being asked to test their children at home on Thursdays and to immediately report the results online. For this to occur, parents need to consent beforehand. The schools will provide the materials for at-home testing.

To give consent for home testing and for reporting the results of home testing, click here >>

The weekly, anonymous, on-campus pool testing procedure, which began in late spring 2021, will continue, generally Mondays. 

Meanwhile, contract tracing is being discontinued, as is the test-and-stay protocol adopted a few weeks ago. This is in line with expectations of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, which broadly governs public schools throughout the commonwealth.

Homan stated at the meeting that Arlington boasts “the highest pediatric vaccination rate in the state,” explaining in an email to YourArlington on Friday that this is reflective of all people ages 5 through 19 in the town, not just those who attend public schools. 

She clarified on Friday, “After vaccines were approved for ages 5-12 in early November, Arlington pulled ahead with the highest vaccination rate for ages 5 to 19 for several weeks. Now, there are many towns with a vaccination rate higher than 95 percent per capita for ages 5 to 19, and Arlington is one of them.”

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'It’s wonderful to have more staff and students back in school.'

-- Elizabeth Homan

This website is regularly updated >>

A chart prepared by Homan’s office shows vaccination rates within APS range from 50 percent at Menotomy Preschool to nearly 90 percent at Arlington High School.

See the chart called “Presentation,” among these documents >> 

Enrollment up in past four months

The schools have increased enrollment by 161 students since Oct. 1, 2021; this figure includes 40 more students joining since Dec. 11, 2021. That count of 40 breaks down to 16 more secondary students, only one of whom is a senior; 17 elementary students; 1 out-of-district student whose grade level was not specified; and 6 preschoolers.

The district’s total enrollment stands at 6,002 as of Jan. 25, Homan said.

See “Report” among these documents >> 

Schools getting more money

This month the school system will get $350,000 to support social-emotional learning, behavioral and mental health, and overall wellness, she said. This was a competitive grant from DESE and is to be used by June 30, 2022, the end of the current school year. 

Local administrators have prioritized helping students adjust back to traditional education’s in-person structure and routine after having been all-remote for most of 2020 and then in hybrid mode – a combination of online and in-classroom study – from late September 2020 to May 2021.

Agency dissolution bill lower 

Arlington and nearby districts have been working for months to disband EDCO, a 16-member collaborative serving greater Boston that has been deemed obsolete and which ceased functioning in July 2021. 

According to Committee Chair Bill Hayner, Arlington’s share of that assessment is less than $91,000, a “considerable” drop from what had been expected last year, he said.

Committee member Kirsi Allison-Ampe called it a “fairly significant reduction.” She and the rest of the committee voted unanimously to accept this charge and to pay the bill.

Read the agenda document >> 

Room for improvement noted 

In a brief “high-level overview” of her “entry-plan findings report,” Homan said families were asking for more transparency, partnership and better communication overall. The basic request is for the schools to “share things early, often and as succinctly as possible,” she said.

The term “entry” refers to Homan being a relative newcomer to the district, having become superintendent seven months ago. Entry plans and entry reports are common practice for individuals entering into new leadership positions.

As to student academic achievement, while almost all students in third, fourth and fifth grades are at grade level in phonics and word recognition, fewer than half of them on average meet that standard for vocabulary and reading comprehension.

Watch the Jan. 27 meeting broadcast by ACMi:

Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr. said that the district will be looking at literacy resources that DESE has recommended.

As for the educational environment, 92 percent of students reported feeling completely safe at school. Committee member Len Kardon said that he was concerned about the other 8 percent who reported feeling at least somewhat unsafe. “It’s something to keep an eye on,” he said.

A chart within the report showed that district teacher salaries are slightly below the state average – and that pay for teaching assistants is far below that of their peers elsewhere.

See agenda documents from this report >> 

In other business
  • The regular monthly financial report was not delivered because of the absence at the meeting of Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason.
  • A request for proposals to hire a facilitator will soon go out for inclusive strategic planning. An ad hoc committee for this purpose will be convened in April, with a plan due to be written in autumn 2022 providing detailed recommendations.
  • The meeting began at 6:30 p.m.; the committee went into closed session at 7:28 p.m. 

Jan. 14, 2022: High Covid numbers at schools start to relent, as staff steps up

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022.