Comments made by Milton School Committee members, teachers and residents during the committee’s Aug. 5 meeting show the difficulty of making a return to school decision.
Every minute of the lengthy meeting was needed to get those concerns out, although with the Citizens Speak agenda item beginning at 10:20 p.m., it is likely that some people just gave up and didn’t wait any longer. Which is unfortunate, considering that at the meeting’s 7 p.m. start, the Citizens Speak was extended to 45 minutes instead of its usual 30 minute time period.
It was clear that school committee members also have spent many long hours on this decision. The Return to School Task Force, co-chaired by Milton School Committee member Ada Rosmarin and Glover Elementary School Principal Karen McDavitt, said in an earlier interview that the “gift of time” (Rosmarin) and the community’s support (McDavitt) is allowing for a thorough vetting of options. The buzz words for the Milton School District, and indeed elsewhere, is to pivot and be nimble.
Even so, when the school committee makes its decision, Sheila Egan Varela, chair of the Milton School Committee, said it best: “It’s never going to be a perfect decision for every family in this district.”
Two remote learning models sanctioned by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are outside, literally and figuratively, of Milton. School administrators learned of these two remote options hours before the Aug. 5 meeting. Little was known at that time of either “Opt Out Full Remote” programs run by Arizona-based Edgenuity or Florida Virtual School Option.
While at least one parent who spoke wants a remote learning model, so does the Milton Educators Association. The Massachusetts Teachers Association also wants a remote model.
Task Force member and Director of Consolidated Facilities Bill Ritchie, and the school district’s custodians, likely know every inch of each school building and what can and cannot be accomplished by ventilation and sanitizing the 1,700 windows in the district. The protection offered by a stronger rating of filters, a MERV value, which stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values, in the district is now 11, up from 8. The filter allows for the capture of air particles, as the epa.gov site notes.
“It’s all about layers, opening windows, ventilating,” Ritchie said. “We want to ventilate, ventilate, ventilate.”
While some parents have the flexibility to work from home and do some overseeing of their children’s school work, not all parents do. With even the Big 10 athletic conference announcing its decision Aug. 11 to postpone the fall sports season for 2020, including the schools’ financially-lucrative football season, it is more apparent of an increasing respect for the virus.
Yet as another parent pointed out, what if not all parents can work from home? Or, what about parents who do not have older children at home who can supervise younger siblings?
Then the community needs to step up. Consider adding another core group to the Return to Task Force. A group where schedules for the families who need help supervising children during a remote model, and even if a hybrid/remote model is needed, is planned and enacted. Think caregivers without the cost of a nanny, tutor or babysitter.
As another parent and resident said as the night wore on, “It may be difficult to figure out but it is our responsibility to figure out.”
– Lisa D. Connell