School Committee members seek clarity on cancellations

Sep 28, 2021
School Committee chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins encouraged administrators at the Sept. 27 meeting to “think outside the box’’ if necessary to ensure that students can participate in as many traditional activities as possible despite the challenges of Covid.


“Our kids need these things,’’ she said. 


Jenkins and other committee members said they had received questions from the public about what events had and hadn’t been cancelled. Parents had asked about the status of activities such as open house and homecoming, committee members said.


The schools should “hold as many of these normal events as we can,’’ Jenkins said. 


In-person open houses were cancelled because of crowd concerns, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bonny Gifford said. They were replaced with virtual events.


Jenkins urged school administrators to think creatively to ensure that these events go on in some fashion.


“Open house is really important,’’ Jenkins said, particularly at the elementary school level when children may not fully explain what is happening to their parents. “Building these connections is really important.’’


Gifford said keeping students in school is the ultimate goal. 


“We’re trying to be as careful as possible and maintain as much normalcy as possible,’’ Gifford said. “If we have big events, who knows what would happen?’’


In general, she said, events will be scheduled outdoors rather than indoors. 


The Halloween parade will go forward, she said, citing it as an example of something that can take place outside.


Homecoming events remain under discussion, she said. 


High school principal Ross Thibault has been meeting with students, who, as of now, are leaning toward outdoor events for homecoming, Gifford said. 


Field trips to indoor locations have also been cancelled. 


Gifford said school administrators routinely reach out to parents with news and information about their schools, including about whether and how events will be held.


“People have to relax’’ and allow school administrators to do the job of scheduling events, she said.  When decisions are made, they will be relayed to parents, she said. “We don’t keep secrets about it.”


Jenkins noted that this year is unusual, which is why parents are uncertain.


“We’re not 100 percent pandemic, we’re not 100 percent normal,’’ she said. “People are unsure where in the spectrum we are. We need to be a little more open this year,’’ because of that, she said.


Committee member John Nunes said that scheduling decisions should be made by school administrators without School Committee involvement and questioned why the discussion was being held at a committee meeting.


“Our job is to set policy and procedures,’’ he said. “We charge the administrators … with operating the district.’’


He said that parents who have specific questions about their children’s education should reach out to teachers via emails and phone calls.


Jenkins countered that committee members have received inquiries from the public and “it’s our job as elected officials to carry those questions forward to the superintendent.’’


The district is dealing with “a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has affected every inch of the operations of our schools,’’ she said. 


She said the committee has “a duty to be clear and transparent to our constituents.’’


One way to avoid the entire issue of what events will and won’t be held is to ensure that students and staff are vaccinated, Nunes said, which will speed up the return to normal operations. 


“That would solve a lot of these problems,’’ he said.