The September 1st School Committee meeting began with an executive session that was closed to the public. At 6:30, the public portion of the meeting began with statement from Needham Education Association President Caren Firger, followed by school opening updates from Dr. Gutekenst.
Needham Education Association Statement
The NEA represents staff across five bargaining units, and has been collaborating with school administration since late June to reopen schools safely. NEA President Caren Firger shared that teachers would like to be back working in-person with students, but that they have concerns about the safety of school buildings. The NEA is negotiating to set evidence-based safety guidelines for reopening of buildings. Goals include:
HVAC that meets or exceeds safety standards of fresh clean air in all classrooms and offices
Appropriate PPE issued to ensure the safety of students, teachers and staff
Clear safety protocols for cleaning and disinfecting
Mask break and lunch procedures
Continued monitoring of local and state health metrics
As part of the negotiations, a Joint Health & Safety Committee has been established which will meet weekly and includes staff and public health professionals. In their initial meeting later this week they expect to receive air quality and HVAC data from each school in order to determine whether it is safe to return. If the schools do not meet the standards, in-person learning will need to be delayed until those standards are met.
School Committee Comments
School Committee assignments have been made for the coming year. Connie Barr will serve on the new Joint Committee on Health & Safety, and Sue Neckes will serve on the town's new Unite Against Racism Committee. A full list of assignments is included in the meeting packet. Each school has an assigned School Committee member and the public is encouraged to reach out to their individual representative with questions or comments. Contact information for each member is available online.
Broadmeadow – Michael Greis
Eliot – Susan Neckes
Mitchell – Connie Barr
Newman – Aaron Pressman
Sunita L. Williams – Heidi Black
High Rock/Pollard – Andrea Longo Carter
Needham High School – Matthew Spengler
Update on School Reopening
Dr. Gutekanst presented an update of the school reopening plan. New information of note included:
Detailed information regarding the re-opening of schools can be found on the NPS website.
Additional information on building maintenance is now available, including reports on studies conducted by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health.
NPS has hired a new consultant, Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc., to review TAB results and provide additional advice and guidance as we move forward, particularly as we head into the winter.
In response to a previous question of whether the the red cohort will have it's own principal(s), administrators have been now designated:
Preschool: Preschool Director Rebecca Sparrel
K-8: Pollard Assistant Principal Megan Bonomolo
High School: NHS Principal Aaron Sicotte
The School Committee has approved a warrant article seeking an additional appropriation of $1.5 million to $2.0 million to be presented at the October Town Meeting. The additional funds will be used to hire 20-30 new Full Time Equivalent teachers, teaching assistants and staff.
Schools will need to consider cutting back further on supplies and services. It was previously recommended that they be reduced by 30%, but the current recommendation is to cut back 50%.
The School Committee is continuing negotiations with the NEA, and staff will soon vote on a Memorandum of Agreement.
Bus routes and stops have been finalized, and bus passes will be mailed later this week. There are currently 30 students on the bus wait list but Dr Gutekanst expects that this will come down during the first few weeks of school.
Face Mask Policy
There were two amendments to the face covering policy (EBCFA):
Masks will now be required during indoor physical education classes but exceptions may be made during some outdoor classes.
It was determined that there may not always be a physical diagnosis for a child to request an exemption. Developmental delays are now also allowed for consideration.
Dr. Connie Barr noted that face shields do not protect from aerosolization of particles being projected. Face shields would protect the student wearing it, and perhaps reduce aerosolization but they would still need to wear a mask to protect others.
EBCFA policy was approved unanimously.
Revised School Calendar
Based on feedback from the public, principals and PTCs, further changes have been made to the school calendar to address equity in the fall months:
26 gold and blue days through December
69 blue days total and 68 gold days total
Changes to the calendar were approved unanimously.
The next school committee meeting is scheduled for September 15.