The Plympton School Committee held their close-out meeting on Monday, July 13 though they agreed that given the current climate meetings would need to be held prior to September.
They began with a reorganization which saw both Jon Wilhelmsen and Jason Fraser retain their titles of chair and vice chair respectively. Wilhelmsen will be serving as chair for the sixth year in a row. Mike Antoine was nominated to serve as secretary. Newest member Dan Cadogen was unable to attend his first meeting as part of the committee.
A report of standing committees followed the reorganization. Fraser said that heand Dennett Principal Peter Veneto now have the information necessary to put together an RFQ for installation of the playground. The Negotiations Committee signed a one-year contract with aides though the negotiations with teachers were still ongoing. Union 31 met to discuss COVID and make sure that their orders for PPE and additional chromebooks were made prior to the deadline for the first round of The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Superintendent Jill Proulx wanted to thank the town of Plympton for helping to make those purchases possible.
Fraser began his legislative update by apologizing for what would be a longer than usual report. He called the threats coming out of Washington D.C., specifically from President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to cut funding for schools that don’t fully open in the fall “largely rhetoric.” He mentioned that Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley has taken the secretary to task over her lack of a plan to reopen schools. Pressley made news this week for tweeting at DeVos, “you have no plan. Teachers, kids and parents are fearing for their lives… I wouldn’t trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child.”
Fraser also pointed out that the mass state tax deadline was that week and said that the state is hoping to have a budget done by September 1. Fraser said there is talk, however, that there won’t be a budget until after the November elections.
The joint conference between the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS) and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) in Hyannis has been cancelled due to safety concerns. Fraser asked the committee if they would be in favor of supporting current MASC President Deborah Davis for a second term. “She has done great work there and she has my full endorsement,” Fraser said. The committee voted to lend her their support.
Veneto also provided a principal’s report to the committee saying, “It’s been an interesting couple of months.” He continued, “We’re trying to attack this whole thing as if we’re all going to be back, but I’m realistic enough to know that that might not be the case.” Veneto said that the three communities worked on a district wide entry plan for kindergarteners. Both Kingston and Halifax are adapting to the model that Plympton has always used that includes holding screenings in the fall rather than the spring. As of right now the plan will be to hold open house for Grades 1-6 on September 1 and screenings for kindergarteners on September 2, 3, and 4. The hope would be to have kindergarten officially start on September 8. The incoming kindergarten class is currently estimated at 42 students, large by Plympton standards. Veneto also said that they are currently reviewing candidates for an open special education position. He said that due to cuts within other districts, there are a lot of great candidates available.
Director of Business Services Christine Healy shared where some of the cost savings from the past fiscal year were found. Transportation, utilities, and substitutes provided savings. Healy said that due to improvements to the building and the closure for the last few months, utilities savings totaled $27,000. After all are totaled, Healy said that $962.91 would be returned to the town from the regular day budget. $78,790 would be returned from special education and $21,199 from out of district vocational.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch shared the results from the most recent survey on remote learning which will be used to inform the reopening plan. Lynch said that participation was high amongst both staff and families and consistent from the April survey to the June one. Results indicated that staff would like to see more accountability from students, additional professional development, and sharing of best practices. Parents were grateful for the individualization of learning plans for some students as well as the willingness to loan chromebooks. Families cited a lack of socialization, excessive screen time, and regression as concerns.
Pros and cons of various online platforms were also discussed. Wilhelmsen said that he was unsurprised to learn that many people didn’t like using Google Classroom and Google Meets. He said that his preference would be Zoom. Other potential platforms mentioned as alternatives were Loom, Blackboard, and Schoology. Fraser, who worked with Schoology in his teaching position, called it a more “robust and elegant” platform. He shared that he would be in favor of any expenditure incurred from the use of a better online platform.
Proulx told the committee that Plympton qualified for $20,000 from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. She said the funds received can be used in similar ways to Title I and Title IIA funds. In addition, those funds can be used for technology, training or even PPE.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released a memo on June 25 which said that the Baker Administration would be allocating $200 million dollars toward schools for COVID related expenses. Schools would be eligible to receive up to $225 per student. Proulx said that shortly thereafter, a memo went out to business directors from the Lieutenant Governor saying that Plymouth County would not be receiving these allocations. Proulx said that she had a meeting the following day that she was hopeful would provide further clarification.
Proulx also provided an update on the plan for reopening. Building principals were asked to figure out how many students could fit in a classroom if requiring 3 feet of social distance and then again, for 6 feet of distance. Wilhelmsen inquired about the seemingly arbitrary 3 feet number. Fraser emphasized that there was no scientific basis for the number and called it “convenient.” He said that he would not support the reduced distancing for Plympton. “We need to do what’s right for our town and our kids,” he said.
The DESE Commissioner also requested that schools prepare three separate plans that account for in person learning, remote learning, and some form of a hybrid of the two. The deadline for the plans was also pushed up to July 31. Reopening committees have been formed and consist of a variety of individuals including nurses, counselors, parents, and staff. An intentions survey will also be distributed asking families questions such as if they intend to send their kids to school under the current circumstances and whether they plan to use the bus. Proulx pointed out that distancing requirements severely limit the number of students that can be put on a bus. Another potential issue will be how to handle a large increase in students being dropped off at school.
Wilhelmsen stressed the importance of thinking of the staff and their safety when developing a reopening plan. Fraser said that while he was not against reopening, he was for choice for both students and teachers. Proulx said that she and Lynch had discussed the option of giving families a choice and whether they had the means to meet the demands presented by choice.
“School will not look the same and parents need to understand that,” Fraser said. “There are lots of consequences to this crisis unfortunately,” Proulx agreed. She continued, “Whatever our decisions are there is going to be a give and take… there are no simple answers to this unfortunately.” Proulx and Lynch both stressed that they are open to and welcome any and all suggestions and ideas regarding reopening.
Proulx thanked Megan Ahrenholz for putting together the summer lunch program. She also asked the committee to vote to accept an anonymous donation of $584.50 to pay off lunch debt,