School Committee 11/8 – Owl Pellet

Forensics is my new favorite class at the high school

As predicted, the School Committee meeting last night was chock-a-block with information. Sadly, there was little opportunity for drama as the Committee ran as always on webinar format which disallows interaction except during Resident Comments at the beginning of the meeting. Since some of the controversial topics have not yet been discussed by the time Resident Comments is scheduled, well, it makes for “smooth running.” While the zoom format has allowed more people to come to meetings (hooray), this is more information-sharing than a chance for community involvement, except if you are a member of the School Committee. We did vote for them–and I do think they’re doing an admirable job (and one I wouldn’t want). Please send them an email if you have comments on the agenda before or after School Committee meetings.

Onwards. Let me share the information I got–as always this is the Owl’s personal view for a blog, not objective media. Wherefore art thou, Town Crier? For the full and accurate summary, please watch the Weston Media Center video when it is available.

First up was the Superintendent’s Report: 

Covid-19 and Health Update:

Elementary schools: In the next week, the plexiglass separators at lunchtime will be removed–this is great news for kids being able to not be so isolated. The Covid testing program at the elementary schools has 80% adherence. There is no in-school spread. As of Wednesday, November 10, friends can ride the bus home with their friends. There will be no vaccination clinics in school because parents need to be present.

Review of Metrowest Adolescent Health Surveys/Assessments being done in Middle School and High School: Mitch Finnegan, K-12 Health and Physical Education Director, gave this report. The last time the Assessment was administered was in 2017; it used to be done in-house but now Weston has joined the Metrowest Health Foundation – 25 communities are original to MHF, and now another 20ish have joined including Weston. The Assessments use modeling from the CDC about youth risk factors.

The Middle School survey was administered last Wednesday and had 85-88% participation. The High School survey will be administered on November 18, but letters have already been sent to HS parents saying they can preview the survey if they want. Parents can also opt out their kids. Students can opt-out of any questions or the entire survey. Only one parent at the HS level so far has asked to preview the survey. Results of the survey will be received in March for the entire Metrowest region, and then the district drill-down will be available in April. 

Mr. Finnegan addressed the question about how the survey results are used in the district. Based on past surveys, a suicide prevention program was created in 2005, and a couple of years later, a dating abuse prevention program was created. The health curriculum has been changed and updated, and the overall goal has always been to keep kids safe and healthy. 

Who has access to the data? The MHF manages the data, there are aggregate data from the 44ish districts that they all get and then there are individual district data that gives us detailed tabulations–like is there an issue in one grade or another, or which gender might have certain issues. There would not be identifiable individual student data–this is anonymous. 

Science Update:

Two cool courses at HS level were highlighted–Biotechnology (Honors Biotech) taught by Mary Liu–includes DNA and Protein Science and Advanced Labs. They have done a lot of study of program steps of PCR. Second cool course I want to take–Forensic Science. Dr. Richard Warby seems awesome–”cool fun things” are learned and critical thinking skills are honed. Blood spatter, fingerprinting and pyrotechnics, hooray, this is good stuff. ”We’re not going to burn down the high school”, says Dr. Warby, which is a relief because getting money for a new one is not going to be easy. The two-year-old class is very popular and I can see why.

Subcommittee reports:

Green Team at the Field School did a lunch waste audit and did their own forensics on 130 pounds of waste–6 was trash, 10 pounds were liquids like thrown-out milk or juice,  4 ½ pounds of recycling, 26 pounds of organic waste, and 86 pounds of unopened food (!!!). Some solutions to this will be developed. Not sure my math is right, not sure I care.

METCO report–Metco Matters fundraiser is in full swing until December 23 (see Owl), and the fruit sales (see Owl) will also continue until November 19.

Major Business:

Health updates–The High School has met and exceeded the 80% vaccination goal, with 87% of students and above 90% of adults vaccinated. Communication has been sent to all non-vaccinated families–the exact contents of such letters were not disclosed. Dr. Connolly said that “a move toward mask-optional environment” is the plan.  The Board of Health extended the town-wide school mask mandate until November 15, 2021. 

There are were two “Situations” discussed–current and goal. Situation A which is the goal:

And Situation B is where we are. Only 65% of students are currently registered for testing at the HS. Jamy Gaynor, Director of Health Services for Weston Public Schools, has set 65% of HS as the goal of testing and that would mean that all students who have registered would have to test every week. Only 25% of all students are currently doing so. 

Weston is in a position to apply to the state for a waiver to the state-wide school mask mandate. Dr. Connolly proposed that on SC approval, the school asks for an exemption to the mask mandate at the High School only. This would move the High School to a mask-optional situation when Situation B is met.  This does not mean masks will never be on again–any time the town is not in the green or if there is in-school transmission, masks are back on. In addition, if there are certain classrooms that have immuno-compromised students, those classrooms will continue to mask up. Indoor sports still have a mask requirement. All unvaccinated students must mask up.

The proposal is to start the week after the week after Thanksgiving (yes that’s correct), so that the Administration would then have three weeks of data before the first winter break. Everyone will mask up the week following Thanksgiving regardless (because of travel).

December 6 is the earliest possible move to mask-optional. A communications plan was discussed. To get out info to all about the importance of testing, there are plans to work with the student leadership teams. Also suggested was putting up a large visual like one of those fundraising thermometers which would show how many (percentage) are testing week over week. The plan is also to stop athletes from participating if they don’t test. I would suggest that similar (and fair) repercussions be addressed for all students–let’s not just pull out the athletes.

Bottom line: there was a motion to approve metrics and apply for exemption from the state. It was approved unanimously. There was no attempt to allow public comment. Going forward, I wonder if School Committee will continue to be the least interactive of any of the town committees. This is not a criticism, but a comment. Bring on the hate mail, I’m ready with the delete key. Also I am not forcing you to read this. You could read our other town media.

After this, there was then an extraordinary amount of time spent on the District Action Plan and the nitty-gritty of language. While this is important, I didn’t care. That’s the whole truth and if you want to hear about it all watch the videotape when available.

The final item that the Owl will look at this morning (time to walk the dog) is the agenda item of the Multi-Function Activity Vehicles. It turns out that these are not in fact swiss army knives on wheels but two 14-passenger school vans. These vans cannot be used to transport students to and from school, and perhaps that is why they absolutely refuse to call them buses. Which they are except they are white. I am at a loss to give them better names because NO ONE is going to call them Multi-Function Activity Vehicles unless they went to Booth School of Business for their marketing skills and then I cannot help them (just kidding, relax, my U of C friends). MuFus? ‘Cat-vans? Wildcat Wheels? Mu-Ves? Will think more.

These ‘Cat-Vans (seems safest for now) could fit say the smaller golf team or math league or club so they can get to events that do not need giant yellow buses. Driving these will not require a special license. There will be training videos for anyone using them. This will definitely help with athletics which has been outsourced before. Before hitting the street, they are just finishing up with setting up insurance. Department heads will have a chance to reserve them–these are not for parent coaches. They are not electric which bummed me out a bit, but will get their fill-ups at DPW. “A multitude of clubs” would be interested in using these, according to Dr. Connolly, and they will be a “nice option to have.” I agree. They will be parked either at the MS or HS though they currently are hanging out at Case House. The administration is still working on policies and scheduling.

The meeting went on to discuss enrollment which I will cover another time because Katie Puppy says “let’s go”. This was all quickly summed up–all mistakes are mine, and I will edit as necessary. There. Enjoy.

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