September 24, 2023

HSB Minutes 3-9-2022

Hartford Board of School Directors

School Board Meeting Minutes

March 9, 2022 @ 6:00 pm

Online Meeting  


Members Present                                                  Administrators Present

Kevin Christie                                                           Tom DeBalsi

Peter Merrill                                                              Cathy Newton

Nancy Russell                                                          Roy Hathorn

Russell North

Havah Armstrong Walther

Olivia Merrill

Sydney Stillman


            1.  Call to Order - Superintendent           

-       Changes, Additions and Approval of Agenda  

Mr. DeBalsi called the Annual Reorganizational Meeting to order at 6:01 PM. 

Mr. DeBalsi asked to add committee assignments.

Moved by Mr. North, seconded by Ms Walther, to approve the corrected agenda. Motion carried.

            2.  Reorganization of the Board 

-       Board Member Resignation and Appointment

Mr. Merrill announced that he ended up in two board seats. He will resign from the ongoing 3 year term and accept the new three year term that he was elected to last week. The notarized document will be given to the Town Clerk tomorrow. 

-       Oath of Office for Newly Elected Board Directors         

Mrs. Russell took the Oath of Office with the Hartford Town Clerk on March 2, 2022.

Mr. Merrill took the Oath of Office for the three year term tonight, March 9, 2022. Alisha St. George notarized the oath. 

There is one opening on the board. Mr. DeBalsi announced that Mr. Christie had volunteered for the seat.

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mr. North, to appoint Kevin “Coach” Christie to fill out the remainder of the three year term that I, Peter Merrill, just vacated. Motion carried.

Mr. Christie took the Oath of Office for the remaining one year of a three year term tonight, March 9, 2022. Alisha St. George notarized the oath. 

-       Nominations for Board Chair

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mr. North, to nominate Kevin “Coach” Christie for the Board Chair. Motion carried.

-       Nominations for Board Clerk

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mrs. Russell, to nominate Mr. North for Board Clerk. Motion carried.

-     Annual Board Committee Assignments
1.    District Facility and Planning Committee - Mr. North

2.    Charter Commission- Mrs. Russell

3.    VSBIT/VEHI Annual Meeting- Mr. North

4.    HCOREI- Ms Walther, Mr. North

5.    Sister City- Ms Walther

6.    Select Board- Mr. North

7.    Regional Collaboration- Mr. Merrill

8.    Policy- Mr. Merrill

9.    Finance- Mr. Christie, Mr. North

10.  Negotiations- Mr. Christie, Mr. North

11. Hartford Community Coalition- Mrs. Russell

12. VSBA- Mrs. Russell

13. Community Outreach- Mr. North, Ms Walther

14. Manifest Approval- Mr. Christie

15. Town/School Meeting Committee- Adam Ricker, Ryan Scelza

Mr. Christie asked Mr. DeBalsi to check with district counsel to see if there is a conflict of interest with Mr. North serving on the Negotiation Committee considering he has a family member who is a district employee. 

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mr. North, to approve the assignments just discussed with the understanding that Mr. North’s assignment on the Negotiation Committee is subject to review by council. Motion carried. 

Mr. Christie and Mr. Merrill thanked me for the minute review and the ongoing complete minutes. 

            3.  Global Ends Reporting (Section 1 Policy EP)

-       Review of District Ends Policies in Relation to Current Events

Mrs. Newton reported on Health and Wellbeing, White River School Food Service. She shared the ingredients for a successful program: Amazing Chef Scott, fresh produce, better quality, and food is made from scratch. The participation rate has increased 10% each month and both breakfast and lunch rates have increased. Students shared thoughts about the food, kids are eating more and there is less waste. The staff agreed that the students are eating more. Chef Scott surveys the students regularly. He just got a grant to purchase a new freezer. He will write another grant for a new stove. Mrs. Newton thanked the board for supporting this endeavor at the White River School. 

The board asked about the possibilities of expanding to other schools. Mr. DeBalsi said he would like to but wouldn’t be able to add a large school population. The program is new and needs to get settled. The other schools are bigger than the WRS.

Olivia Merrill asked about the possibility of HACTC Culinary Art students working with Chef Scott to prep or prepare meals. Mr. DeBalsi said that the students have requirements for their program and daily food prep may not meet their course needs. He will ask the Chef and the culinary team about their thoughts. 

Mr. Christie asked about the possibility of a “thinking meeting” about this issue. He noted that there may be state money coming for CTE programming. 

            4.  Communication and Support to the Board (Section 1 Policy EL 9)

-       Student Representative Report          

Olivia reported: Boys’ track team broke school record, 4x800 race at NE Meet; Art Dept has new distancing guidelines, down to 3’ spacing; declining COVID rates, brings positivity and hope; next school year, course sign-ups, student choices, often students get their first choices; Appreciation for nurse Felicia Hayes, COVID Coordinator, and Rena Burnett, Registrar and Schedule Magician.

Mr. Hathorn thanked Olivia for the complete report, noting that she meets with Mr. Fogg to work on the updates.

Mrs. Russell thanked Olivia for the report. She also noted Sydney was the starring goalie on the Hartford HS Girls’ Ice Hockey team. They just lost in the State Finals, they had a great season. Sydney publicly apologized for missing board meetings, she stated her attendance would improve now that hockey is over. 

-       Superintendent’s Report

Professional staff contracts went out today, 238 contracts; staff looking forward to normal, fewer cases; HHS Boys’ Hockey team going to State finals Friday night, HHS Boys’ Basketball went to the State quarterfinals; administrator openings, two vacancies, good turnout of applicants, 14 well qualified applicants for Mrs. Newton’s position narrowed down to 7, and then further to two, district wide committee. He thanked the committee for their work; HMS assistant principal, 17 applicants, narrowed to 6 to interview, 3 were brought back to second interviews and will present at a faculty forum tomorrow. 

Mr. Christie reminded the board about the hiring committee process, having a variety of staff members on the committees, starts with gathering input from the building staff which helps shape first round questions, culls out strongest applicants, interviews, and follow up. 

            5.  Governance Process (Section 4 Policy GP 2)

-       COVID Protocols - Changes to Masking Recommendations

Mr. Christie announced that when board members are contacted by parents they forward the concerns to Mr. DeBalsi.

Mr. DeBalsi reported the district has followed the guidance from the CDC, the VT AOE, and the State Dept of Health. At times their guidance has been unclear, untimely, or changed before the next date arrives. He further noted that the State Dept said that each district could decide what they will do regarding masking beginning on March 14, 2022. He recommended that the district follow this guideline and have the masks optional. There are plenty of masks and tests for students and families. He reported the approximate vaccination rates at each school, 32 % to 63 %, far less than the 80% threshold the state had hoped for.

He asked the board for their thoughts. 

Mr. Merrill shared a graph showing the rolling Vermont average of new COVID cases per day. He noted that currently Vermont is down with regard to Omnicron but is steady with the average from a year ago. The United States is reaching a million deaths. We have been successful in following the science. He urges that we continue to do so, but at some time in the future the science will tell us to return to mask wearing. 

Mr. North asked what the CDC position is. Mr. DeBalsi replied he thought that they were suggesting the same. There may be some discrepancy between the CDC and the state. Mr. North further noted he was disappointed that staff members were not surveyed. Mr. DeBalsi replied that he was going to do a survey but decided against it to not pit staff members against each other.

Olivia asked if Mr. DeBalsi was considering getting student input before the mask decision was changed. Mr. DeBalsi said he was not, but would be willing to poll staff and students if the board asks.

Ms Walther shared that she has had several staff and residents contact her about mask wearing. We wear a mask to protect others. She was surprised that the vaccination rates were so low in the schools. She cautioned that removing masks might make the younger population slip back. What will the mask rule be for students who come back from an illness/absence? What will the mask position be for the staff? She feels this is problematic to change the mask rules in the middle of the school year.

Mrs. Russell noted that she has had similar communications from parents. She has concerns about children not wearing a mask. She would like to have students wear their masks until the end of the year. The risk of infecting family and community members would increase. The board is supposed to be protecting the students and staff.

Olivia noted that students are able to wear their masks and participate in school activities. She said that consistency is important and the expectation was that masks and vaccinations help keep you and others safe. Remote learning was discontinued because administrators were sure they could protect students and others. If the masks are discontinued would remote learning be an option? Mr. DeBalsi said that is not allowed per state restrictions. Olivia continued, how can we keep ourselves safe when the rate of infection is at the rate of the original and Delta variants. 

Mr. Merrill said he is interested in keeping everyone safe. He notes that mask wearing has become a bigger issue. He relies on health information. What is the evidence and what does it tell us?

Mr. Christie noted the need for consistency. He agreed with his fellow board members. The yo-yo effect isn’t helpful. The primary responsibility is the safety of the students, staff, and the families connected to the core group. Does it make sense to ask the staff? This would show respect to the staff, it’s the right thing to do. 

Mr. North agreed with Olivia, if we’re doing this in the name of the students, doesn’t it make sense to ask them? All the input we get would help to make the best decision.

Mr. Merrill reminded the board of the protocol the district has been following, have the COVID team review the guidelines and make recommendations. He’s very concerned that we are moving quickly but recognized that we have done well with our model.

Felicia Hayes, COVID Coordinator; CDC currently recommends indoor masking based on level of transmission, Windsor CO is currently moderate, implies that it’s being monitored; science says indoor masking would be determined by transmission rate; concerned about the communication around the direction; people will “hear” COVID is over, masking is over, lots of wear a mask if…; masking is one piece of the picture, testing and reporting positive cases another; board please consider the rest of the message.

Nichole Vielleux spoke about the staff survey, would have been about feelings and not necessarily tied to the science, we do care about people’s feelings, staff morale- mask mandate or optional, students and staff now stay home when sick, morale would be lower if you don’t follow the science, does it send a different message about school and outside in the community?

Cristina Tardie, WRJct, is there a legal liability if the school board keeps or eliminates the masks mandates and what about the vaccination rate? Mr. DeBalsi replied that the state’s guidelines would allow getting rid of them. No schools are close to the 80% threshold. 

Geri, Wilder, thanked the board for their discussion tonight. She likes the ideas of asking students, parents, and community members about their position. The board could still make their decision.

Olivia recapped, masking is only one part of this, distancing has been relaxed, and vaccination rates are lower. Would we need to do some things differently since we’re taking one part away? 

Mr. Merrill echoed the importance of considering the rest of the message. He cautioned it doesn't mean we can go back to our “old ways”. Stress the importance of vaccination, respect each other by staying home when you’re sick, think about how your behavior affects others, and respect others who wear/don’t wear a mask. 

Mrs. Russell echoed Mr. Merrill’s comments. She is also concerned about the students’ mental health. She recognizes that masking isn’t the only thing that is impacting mental health issues. The board has to think of every single child that attends the district. This decision will be hard but the board is making it for the good of the children based on what we know at this time.

Ms Walther, thanked Mrs. Russell for her comments about mental health. She also echoed Mr. Merrill’s polarization of masking. She gave the example of chicken pox, what would an outbreak do? We should consider this a general health issue. This would allow us to be health conscious and not political.

Mr. DeBalsi clarified about not doing the staff survey, as he was trying to avoid a polarizing outcome. He wants to protect the students and staff and is using the guidelines from the state. He doesn’t know what the next steps would be if we keep the masks on. He would like a higher vaccination rate. He will support the board in whatever they decide. The town discontinued the mask mandate effective last night. He stated some area schools that have kept or discontinued masking. 

Olivia questioned how this message would be communicated, how do you say that the school is doing something different from the town. You need to consider the developmental language levels of students. 

Mr. Christie summarized after listening to the conversations, he goes to the science first. The message needs to be clear and consistent. 

Mr. DeBalsi said whatever the decision is his message would be very clear. He would continue to say stay home when you’re sick. HIs intent was to make this part of the equity position. We’re all different, this would be an extension of it. Having diagrams for the younger children would be helpful.

Mr. Christie asked what the feedback was from the COVID team. This team has kept the district safe. Mr. DeBalsi replied that no one is happy but have to believe that the experts who are giving the guideline. Mr. Christie asked for a recommendation from the COVID team that would include all the tools in the kit.

Ms Walther asked what the option to wear would look like in the classroom? Children who are working together with some wearing and not wearing might be difficult. How do we keep students feeling happy and safe? Would we need to force kids to wear or not wear during group activities? 

Olivia echoed those concerns at the high school level. You know friends are making different COVID choices than you are. This isn’t hypothetical in a high school.

Mrs. Russell noted that some kids are mean, she is having a hard time seeing consistency in the classrooms. 

Mr. North agreed with Mr. Merrill’s comments and reminded the board of their governance style where they allow the superintendent to run the district within reason. He further noted a family situation that made him vow to do all he can to keep all safe. We all value the lives of our students and staff. He thinks this will just have to come to a vote.

Mr. Merrill also shared a family hardship, but recognizes all have their own positions. 

Mr. Christie knows the board has to support the highest level of safety within their ability to do it. He asked the board if there was any additional information that would be helpful in making a full vote versus taking a straw poll tonight. An emergency meeting could be held for the formal vote.

Ms Walther asked about polling the staff.

Mr. DeBalsi asked about waiting for the Engagement Meeting on March 23, 2022 for the final decision.

Mr. Merrill asked about the technical troubles tonight and during the Candidates’ Night. He wondered about the technology and someone interfering with the meeting. 

The meeting was interrupted several times with the online viewers and town hall being disconnected or not being able to hear each other, 8:45 - 9:15 PM. 

The meeting was closed due to technical difficulties at 9:10 PM. It will be rescheduled.


-       Annual Ends Monitoring Reports Process and Review

            6.  Public Comments  

The public was invited to attend the meeting online at, meeting ID 974 3075 5984.


            7. Consent Agenda (Section 4 Policy GP 4)

Meeting Minutes 

-       Regular Meeting 2-9-2022

-       Budget Discussion/Candidates Night 2-21-22

-       Engagement Meeting 2-23-2022

-       Town Meeting 2-26-2021





            8. Next Meeting Agenda


            9. Meeting Evaluation


            10.  Adjournment


Respectfully submitted,

Cherrie Torrey



School Board Engagement Meeting is Wednesday, 

March 23, 2022 at 6:00 PM