The Halifax School Committee met in-person at the Halifax Town Hall on Thursday, July 1. They began the meeting with a reorganization of the Committee. Summer Schmaling was nominated to serve as Chair and the vote was unanimous. Schmaling then went on to nominate Gordon Andrews as Vice Chair. New Committee member Lauren Laws asked for a brief description of each of the roles before nominating herself to serve as Vice Chair. She cited Andrews’ many responsibilities including his role as one of the town’s Selectmen as a reason. Both Andrews and Laws received seconds to their nominations so the Committee then voted. Andrews narrowly bested Laws for the role of Vice Chair. Laws was instead nominated and voted in as secretary. Jim Keegan was named to the Pilgrim Area Collaborative.
Schmaling opened the floor for public participation. A member of the audience expressed frustration that she would not be allowed to speak later in the meeting during a discussion on a particular topic. “I’m here because I’m extremely upset with the climate and I don’t want to add to the negative climate within town and I have a few requests of the Board that I would like you to take with an open mind and would like the community to take with an open mind,” the resident said. She went on to say that Superintendent Jill Proulx was aware of the situation.
She continued, “I have requested all of the public documents and emails regarding the practice.” After being asked for clarification, she said she was referring to the dispute surrounding the peace flag being hung in classrooms. She said, “I thought the Pride event was wonderful; I look forward to it next year, but with the Peace flag, I have two children in the school, they were currently in second and fourth grade this year. I don’t believe the administration handled it very well and I requested, as I can, everything publicly available… there was over 1,000 emails.” She said that the price tag for obtaining all of this documentation is over $1,000.
“What did come to my attention, and I think that the public deserves to know, is that although individuals may not personally wish to have litigation or sue when they contacted the Attorney General’s office; the Attorney General can bring litigation and lawsuits forward to the town. I believe that is something that the general populace of the town of Halifax deserves to know…. As a parent I can tell you that my own son attempted suicide on April 7 of this year and it was in regards to what was going on at the school; it wasn’t another student, it happened to be the way the administration handled something incorrectly over the years and a staff member at the school.” She identified herself as a Girl Scout leader and said that half of her troop self-harms or has suicidal ideation. “This is a problem that we need to address,” she said. she also went on to urge understanding, inclusion, and appropriate accommodation of those that identify as LGBTQ+.
“I know that there are multiple staff at the school, teachers, paraprofessionals, administration that in the past have taken the youth mental health first aid course. I would like to request from the Board that the paraprofessionals be required to take it and if… you guys need to have negotiations with union staff and other things to have step raises as they do at Town Hall and other things for those that have different certifications and such, that those discussions happen.” She cited an unfortunate incident between her own son and a paraprofessional at the school as her motivation for wanting to see them all trained properly. She mentioned the mental health challenges that are sure to be seen once school resumes in late summer saying, “We have wonderful staff at the school… but I don’t think the district is ready; honestly I don’t think any district is ready.” She also requested that those on recess duty have their simple CPR training.
Before concluding her remarks, she added, “I’m also really bothered, as a parent in 2021, that students that have invisible disabilities are not addressed more… I never should have had to hire an attorney to get my kid what he needed.” She also criticized the behavior, particularly on social media, of some of those currently sitting on the Diversity and Inclusivity Subcommittee.
Director of Business Services Christine Healy provided the Committee with a financial closeout. Healy acknowledged that there were some “unusual events” but said, “thank goodness we made it successfully through the year.” She listed some of the savings including regular transportation and homeless transportation. Special education transportation, however, was a deficit of nearly $28,000. Healy said that she requested a line-item transfer to move funds from the regular day budget. “We do have money left in the special education portion of that to offset these costs,” she explained. She acknowledged that they struggled with their Circuit Breaker funds and said that they will be going into next school year with $100,000 less in these funds than usual. Healy told the Committee that the regular day budget will be ending with a surplus of $84,000 before the $28,000 line-item transfer. Healy also said there was a surplus of over $36,000 in out of district vocational.
Before adjourning, the Committee turned their attention to the Subcommittees. Schmaling provided an update on Youth and Rec saying that they did a STEM program through June at the Elementary School. She also said that the gym floors will be re-sanded, re-lined, and refinished this summer and referred to it as a total makeover. “We are very fortunate that we have such a strong Youth and Rec department here in Halifax because they really do provide a lot for our kids in terms of sports which is great,” she said. Schmaling also said that the department will be looking to replace the existing tennis and basketball courts behind the schools at some point as well.