At the 9/14 SC meeting, a transportation update was a provided, along with a report on the opening of school which focused on health and safety protocols and the new Test & Stay program. After the meeting adjourned, Dr. Gutekanst and the School Committee attended the Select Board meeting to present information and answer questions about the renovation of Emery Grover for school administration.
A parent raised an issue regarding students that come from two-home families registering for bus service to each home. Currently families must pay for a seat on each bus. She asked that the School Committee consider revising the policy to better accommodate these families.
Sub committee assignments have been made and the full list will be posted on the NPS website. School liaison assignments are as follows: - Broadmeadow: Liz Lee - Eliot: Andrea Longo Carter - Newman: Matt Spengler - Sunita Williams: Mike O'Brien - Mitchell: Connie Barr - High Rock/Pollard: Connie Barr - Needham High School: Michael Greis - Minuteman: Aaron Pressman
The Permanent Public Building Committee (PPBC) has approved the request for additional study of Mitchell building options
Director of Transportation Shane Marchand presented an update on transportation within the district. SC also requested a breakdown of ridership as percentage of total students, which is included in the meeting packet. Some highlights:
Ridership on buses is almost up to pre-pandemic levels, although there is currently no waiting list. Typically there are 15-40 families awaiting seats at this time of year.
There have been a few issues with some buses running late at the start of the year, but they have mostly been resolved by reworking bus routes slightly.
Boston buses are running well (provided by Localmotion) and have two monitors on elementary buses.
Out of District vans (from Vanpool) are also running well.
Six vans to transport special education students are running, and they are looking for one more driver.
Drivers are difficult to find right now. The district is covering routes, but do not have back-ups.
My SchoolBucks for online registration was significantly smoother than last year's rollout. 95% registrations online, while the remming 5% come into the building to register in person.
There was an annual back-to-school meeting for all drivers where they reviewed the handbook and COVID safety protocols for cleaning, ventilation, etc. Noted by Mr Marchand: Some models of buses have a flange that makes it look like windows are not open, but they in fact are.
In-person bus evacuation drills will take place in October. This information was provided to students in a slide show last year.
Additional information was provided int esponse to SC member questions:
The middle school late bus, which was introduced two years ago, stopped running last year due to COVID. That additional bus is now being used to help transport Eliot students. Although ridership is down slightly, it does not provide enough flexibility to reallocate a bus for the late bus. Reinstating the late bus will require adding another bus.
Needham is able to retain drivers very well, but has difficulty replacing drivers who retire or move away.
Construction projects and general congestion have impacted some bus routes, but drivers are navigating as well as they can.
Sometimes the limiting factor for bus capacity is not the total number of seats, but how many children can be dropped off within the available timeframe. Buses that cover more distance or more a congested area may transport fewer students
The handling of two-home students follows current transportation policy, which would need to be revised to help accommodate these families. But there are some cases where there is simply not a bus available — for example, if one parent of Sunita Williams student lives in Eliot or Broadmeadow district. Because most buses are close to capacity, a seat needs to be allocated for each rider to ensure there is space on a given bus. The district also needs to know which bus a child is riding on a given day to ensure their safety.
In light of the proposed renovation of Emery Grover, Mr. Marchand provided some information about how he and the Transportation Department use the building.
The conference room is able accommodate a gathering of all drivers from the various bus companies. These 3-4 meetings each year are credited with helping team-building and driver retention.
SPED Van drivers check in each morning to review any changes to their routes.
The central location allows those who are not able to register online to come in for personal help with registration, as well as for families of SPED students to coordinate with both Special Education and Transportation directors.
Drivers can use the bathroom in the building — the only one they may have access to during their work day.
Dr. Gutekanst proposed sending a survey to families this fall about transportation and other services to help assess budget priorities. It should be provided both electronically and by paper to reach as many families as possible.
Opening of School Update
Dr. Gutekanst provided an update on the recent start of the school year. With regard to teaching and learning, staff have been focused on welcoming students back to the schools and getting to know them. But the majority of his presentation focused on health and safety measures:
Health and safety continue to be a priority as the district works towards reducing — not eliminating — risk of infection in schools.
Decisions regarding changes to protocols will be made based on local and state health data and in compliance with public health guidance and mandates.
The Covid Dashboard is available to keep families informed of infections in schools.
Additional information regarding both surveillance testing and the Test & Stay program was provided:
A letter was sent to families including a consent form provided CIC, the contractor handling Needham's testing. As of the meeting there was a consent rate of 99% — though that number was met with a little surprise considering it was 42% about 36 hours prior.
On a given day, the health attestation form is completed by 96% of students 88% of staff. (The staff number is lower because many part-time staff do not work each day and therefore do not fill out the form)
The rules for quarantine for in-school exposures vary depending on both vaccination status and where the close contact occurred. Vaccinated individuals who are asymptomatic can return to class and activities without testing. Eligible students are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.
At this time, Needham is only participating in the Test & Stay program, which will allow asymptomatic close contacts to be tested in school for 5-7 days. If the test is negative, the student can stay at school and participate in school activities, but they are NOT allowed to participate in out-of-school activities until quarantine period ends. DESE and the state have prioritized students being in school, so there are different rules for inside schools. A helpful perspective is to think of Test & Stay as allowing students to still attend school instead of having to remain home to quarantine.
Because Test & Stay is a brand new program from the state, there have been and will be some hiccups and inconsistencies. Needham is still waiting for some staffing and supplies to be provided by the state but has been able to start the program with current resources as of 9/14. Most communities started Test & Stay this week because resources from the state were not available earlier.
At this time the Joint Committee does not recommend participating in surveillance testing. Given the high vaccination rates and low positivity rates in Needham, surveillance testing is 4- to 5-times more likely to return a false positive than a true positive result. Many comparable communities who used surveillance testing last year have decided to not continue with it. If the data changes, it might make sense to implement surveillance testing, especially for K-6 students who are not eligible for vaccination. Very few schools are testing vaccinated students.
Contact tracing is laborious, and the school will err on the side of caution until tracing can be completed. Students may be asked to stay home until they are cleared to return to school.
Dr. Gutekanst also mentioned that families should have received a copy of the 2021 Performance Report in the mail, but the online version also features links to supporting documents and additional information.
Approve FY23 Budget Guidelines - approved 7-0-0
Approve Needham Montessorri Lower Elementary School - approved 7-0-0
The meeting was adjourned, and then Dr. Gutekanst and SC members attended the Select Board meeting to present information regarding the warrant article to approve design funds for the renovation of Emery Grover at the upcoming Special Town Meeting.
The School Committee will meet next on September 21 at 6:30pm.