School Committee logoMeetings shift to 'hybrid.'

         -- Bill Hayner
$84.4m spending plan for next fiscal year

The School Committee on March 17 adopted the district budget unanimously at its shortest meeting in many months and the first one in person in the two years since the coronavirus pandemic began.

However, while the pandemic has receded, it has not disappeared, as evidenced by the need to return to masking temporarily in some classrooms at one Arlington Public Schools campus earlier this week.

Committee meetings will continue in “hybrid format,” said Chairman Bill Hayner. On Thursday evening, most committee members and district administrators were “live” in the School Committee room, while the others were able to fully participate via Zoom webinar technology. For the previous two years, since March 2020, all meetings had been remote.

The change came about because of encouraging health metrics. Per the Centers for Disease Control’s new risk-calculation tool, Middlesex County is considered to have low levels of Covid-19 infection. Virus incidence in the area is the lowest since July 2021 according to regional wastewater readings. Vaccination rates in town public schools for grades K-12 are between 85 and 94 percent.

Masks back at Bishop

As of March 7, mask-wearing became optional for students and staff except for at district preschool and day-care facilities, where most pupils are too young to be vaccinated. 

However, indoor masking did have to be reimposed temporarily in some classrooms at Bishop Elementary School recently because of a “sharp increase” that “met the definition of an outbreak,” Superintendent Elizabeth Homan said at the meeting.

“Our goal remains to keep kids in school,” she said.

Contacted by YourArlington on March 18, she provided details. Four classes had to mask indoors Monday and Tuesday; since then all classes at Bishop have been doing so and also practicing cohorting, or staying with classmates at lunch, recess and indoor physical education sessions rather than mingling with others. This protocol will continue until at least this coming Wednesday. Meanwhile, the 14 people who tested positive for Covid had to isolate off campus, Homan said.

“We intervene in a targeted way, and use a variety of tools to respond to cases or outbreaks,” she said via email. “Each situation is different, and we respond by imposing restrictions (or not) based on what we see happening in real time. We consult with our nurses and the health department for each situation and before imposing additional restrictions.”

Retain masking authority

According to the “continued mitigation” section of the district document that outlines current policy, the Arlington Public Schools retain the authority to bring back mandatory masking and other restrictions when the alternative may be missed days of school for students in a classroom or school where an outbreak occurs, including:

  • The ability to flexibly reimpose physical-distancing and cohorting restrictions in individual classrooms, lunchrooms or schools;
  • The ability to repeat-test consented students in classrooms where outbreaks occur; and
  • As a last resort, the ability to close a classroom or school when ventilation is compromised or when outbreaks occur.
Budget by the numbers

The fiscal 2023 budget proposal was adopted unanimously. Homan noted that it was the same as presented at the meeting four weeks ago and the same as at the public hearing at the meeting two weeks ago. The total is $84,447,869. Broken down into six categories, under the motion voted on, its major components are:

  • Elementary education: $24,103,484;
  • Secondary education: $24,538,543;
  • Special education: $21,815,543;
  • Curriculum and instruction: $3,570,185;
  • Administration: $2,481,776; and
  • Other: $7,938,338.
In other business
  • During public comment, two local parents expressed concern about the proposal for all ninth-grade English classes to be heterogeneous in future; that is to say, no longer divided into regular and honors levels. Public meetings on this matter are scheduled for 6:15 p.m. March 22 in the high school’s discourse lab, with attendance limited to 50 people; at 6:15 p.m. March 28 in the same location and with the same attendance cap; and at 6:15 p.m. April 5, held remotely, with no attendance limit set.
  • The calendar for school year 2022-2023 was approved, including a start date of Sept. 6, 2022 -- one day after Labor Day -- and a projected end date possibly as late as June 28, 2023, should there be five snow days. 
  • Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason gave monthly financial reports, including projected expenditures for playground repairs at Brackett Elementary School, air conditioning at the high school and ultraviolet lighting for disinfection of school buses, among other recommended improvements.
  • Students are excelling athletically and academically, Homan said. The high school girls' hockey team for the second time will compete in the state divisional championship; it is already Middlesex League champion for the fourth straight year. Meanwhile, six National History Day projects at Ottoson Middle School and Gibbs School (grades 6-8) are bound for state competition.
  • The committee went into closed session at 7:18 p.m. to conduct strategy sessions for expected upcoming contract negotiations with collective bargaining units.

March 4, 2022: Masks optional in effect at K-12 public schools

This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, March 18, 2022.