June 25, 2022

HSB Minutes 3-16-2022


Hartford Board of School Directors

Special School Board Meeting Minutes

March 16, 2022 @ 6:00 pm

Hartford High School Auditorium and Online Meeting  


*Special School Board Meeting to complete Agenda Items from 3/9/2022


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 

Changes, Additions and Approval of Agenda  
Mr. Christie called the meeting to order at 6:29 PM. He apologized for the delay due to technical difficulties. This meeting is a continuation of the March 9, 2022 meeting.

At 6:29 there were 58 attendees on Zoom and 10 people in the audience.

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Ms Walther, to accept the agenda. Motion carried.


 2.  Governance Process (Section 4 Policy GP 2)

COVID Protocols - Changes to Masking Recommendations
Mr. DeBalsi shared that the COVID team had met several times this past week. Felicia Hayes will present what the current recommendation of the committee is based on information from the CDC, Vt AOE and Dept of Health: universal masking is not recommended in Windsor County based on transmission rate; will recommend masking in certain instances; leave open return to universal masking if cases increase; individuals may continue to wear masks if they choose; other guidelines will remain in place- stay home if you’re sick, test if you have symptoms, wear a mask for ten days after an exposure, continue to communicate when there’s a positive case, encourage families to discuss vaccination with family health care providers, bullying and harassment will not be tolerated, return with negative tests or loss of symptoms, and vaccinated students’ families encourage to share vaccination card with school nurses.

Mr. DeBalsi shared the updated vaccination rates as provided by the state: WRS 42%, DBS 59%, OQS 68%, HMS 56%, and HHS 63%.

Ms Walther asked to clarify that for ten days after an exposure he/she will wear a mask. Mrs. Hayes replied yes, that’s correct.

Olivia asked at what point would universal masking return, how would that be determined? Mrs. Hayes replied that the state monitors and the transmission data is posted on Thursdays.

Mrs. Russell asked about the plan to make the schools a safer environment for students and staff if the masks are optional. Mrs. Hayes replied that the other mitigation factors will be kept in place if the masks become optional. 

Olivia asked about testing, currently most people that are testing are symptomatic. How are we monitoring the asymptomatic? Will the testing program continue until the end of the year? Mrs. Hayes replied that the nurses will be handing out the tests for students and families. She does not know about surveillance testing. At this point she doesn’t know about the antigen testing program ending, but things do change.

Mr. Hathorn opened the question period up to the audience at the high school and the Zoom audience.

Chris McSherry, parent of two children, been told to trust the science, his autistic child has had great difficulties with masking, it’s time to move on and live our lives, if you’re worried about catching it wear an N95, asked to end the mask mandate immediately, tired of hearing about children struggling because they’ve been dehumanized with wearing a mask.

Anna McSherry, 9th grader HHS, goes to class, sees students with improper masks wearing, what’s the point in wearing a mask?

Cassandra North, HHS teacher, asked about how masking will be enforced after an exposure? Will there be a daily update with who needs to wear a mask? Mrs. Hayes replied that there’s no good way to enforce this, it’s shared information with the families when there’s a positive case. This would place the onus on the individual to wear a mask when exposed.

Ms Walther asked how teachers be notified when there’s been a case in their class? Mrs. Hayes replied that everyone in the class receives a general email to tell you there was a case identified in the room.

Kelsey, a parent of a DBS autistic preschooler, he needs to be able to see his classmates’ faces. How can the school board keep the mandate when the town has discontinued universal masking? Hoping that Vt doesn’t have to be the last state to move forward, hoping that we can take students with disabilities into consideration. 

Olivia asked how the vaccination rates in the town compare with the rates in the schools. Mr. DeBalsi doesn’t have any updated data. Mrs. Hayes reported that Windsor County is at 51% vaccination rate. 

Mr. DeBalsi asked the audience to not make this wrong either way. Everyone needs to be able to speak their mind. If people wear a mask they need to feel safe and comfortable it. The board will make their decision tonight based on the information they have.

Mr. Christie reminded that group clarity is key. Mrs. Hayes gave a clear explanation of what is in place in the district and what the committee is recommending. Mr. DeBalsi has also given clear expectations.

Mr. Merrill spoke, we each came to the pandemic from different places. He has relied on our own group of experts who have provided us with the most relevant and safest way to approach this. This has worked for us and we should continue to follow their guidelines. What we do today may change based on what happens tomorrow. He gave world examples of COVID cases and economic impacts. There is a reason the school has a different position than the town does. Schools have to have a safe learning environment. The board is entrusted with that. He recognizes the varying family challenges. They have to take into consideration the common good. 

Mrs. Russell thanked the previous speakers and the seventeen people that have sent letters to the board. She researched and shared information from a study from Speech Language Therapists that stated there are no studies to prove or disprove the need for speech therapy is due to masking. She believes that masking should continue to keep everyone safe.

Mr. North thanked the audience and those who notified the board. This has been a difficult situation and will be a difficult decision. He agrees that kids will be kids and will wear or not wear their mask properly. If the board continues with masking, bullying behavior will not be tolerated. 

Brianne Goodspeed, mom of 7 year old, appreciates hearing from special needs parents, last two years have been major setback, troubled to see that universal masking has been dismissed by the board, Gov Scott recommended discontinuing this, she shared Dan French’s position, board has been following the Gov’s position, clear last week that the board members were going rogue on this position, urged board to drop the mask mandate for the children, time to move on.

Liam Goodspeed, 7, a little afraid, my opinion of masks, what little kids need to see is bigger kids smiling faces, it gets their brain to grow, masks don’t help at all, cloth and paper, fed up with masks, thank you.

Nicholette Raney, elementary teacher, appreciates the families speaking, over the past two years have felt safe because the district has followed the science, now the board is not listening to the science of not masking, sends a message that schools are not safe, slippery slope to hold on to the controls based on what could happen, hope for the best, didn’t have a choice in the past two years, don’t have one now we need to discontinue masking, mask aren’t the only thing that take care of them.

Lisa Burton, clarifying question about optional masking, do teachers have the option of asking students to mask if they are compromised? Mrs. Hayes referred to Mr. DeBalsi but the recommendations are based on community transmission, but anyone with concerns should discuss with their health provider. Mr. DeBalsi agreed that anyone that is compromised should be consulting with their provider. If the physician wasn’t able to consult then the principal and teacher should be able to approach the families and request for masking. Ms Walther asked if staff members with a doctor’s note could ask for accommodations. Mr. DeBasli replied yes there are accommodations that could be supported when justified by the physician.

Dsolomita, father of school age children and a two year old immunocompromised, talked about the different variants, time to end this, urges to end this.

Olivia, HHS student, autistic and immunocompromised, masks have been hindering, but have helped keep everyone safe, keep other things in place to keep all safe.

Mr. Christie suggested revisiting the proposal from the last meeting.

Mr. DeBalsi reviewed the proposal to follow VT State AOE and Dept of Health guidelines, suspend universal masking mandate. He supports optional masking if an individual chooses. He further recognizes that they may need to reinstate the mandate should the cases start increasing. He would support the board’s timeline. He will be extremely careful about the guidelines in certain places.

Olivia asked if the wording is enough that masks could be worn in certain areas, like band, music, or performing arts. Mr. DeBalsi said those areas do have different guidelines about distancing, masking, and instrument protocols.

Tessa, asked about music and masking, does the same apply to sports because the same heavy breathing is in sports as in music? Mr. DeBalsi said he has not heard that about sports. Spring sports are held outside.

Anna McSherry, in choir HHS, restrictive wearing a mask to breathe and perform while singing, follows the three feet spacing, restricting on health when you are using a lot of breath and exerting a lot of energy.

Chrisian Durgin, fellow educator at a different school system, not being able to read facial cues with masking, has deaf children, value of social development to read facial cues, parental support for unmasking, pros outweigh the dangers.

Chris McSherry, regarding immunocompromised people, student has gone down hill in two years, wife is immunocompromised and is moving on with her life, he’s a nurse and has been close to COVID patients, worried about bringing it home, get an N95, move on and live our lives.

Libbi Keith, PhD, the level of psychological damage from the pandemic is great, has children in school, has been difficult, play sports, some rules are arbitrary, gave examples of other schools that have lifted, kids are going to activities in NH where the restrictions are less, the psychological damage will take a very long time or never to overcome, some rules make no sense, level of anger and frustration are beyond, not enough staff to come to work, physically demanding, use the guidance to take masks off, some school board members don’t have to wear masks all day nor do they have kids in schools, crisis screening for kids sent home had no structure, reintegrating students into structure is difficult, truancy problem, end it so we can begin to fix it, special needs or mental health needy students really struggling, students being sent home because of behaviors, have to start ot figure out how to undo the last two years of trauma, 

Sam Heaton, parent, the last two years have been the hardest with a child with a speech problem, how difficult it is when children are learning to speak but can’t see faces, social emotional difficulties, don’t feel safe for my child in the school system and will try to find another place for him, health and safety of children- the social and emotional health is important

Mr. North reminded that group that a majority of the board does have students in the district.

Olivia told the body she is one of two student representatives on the board. Parents and students are on the board.

Mike Parker asked about what happens based on the vote tonight? What happens if the students show up without a mask? Mr. Christie replied that no decision has been made yet tonight. This is a very emotional issue for many folks. 

Olivia told the group that if a student comes to HHS without a mask you are given one from a school employee and are expected to go about your day with a mask.

Cristina Tardie, WRJ, what is the legal base for the school board to go against the state recommendation? Mr. DeBalsi replied that the school board has the authority to go further than the state as they are the governing body of the school district. They can decide how to protect the students and staff, if they want to continue the mask mandate they can. 

Mr. Merrill moved, seconded by Mr. North, that on Monday March 21, 2022 we implement the proposed Hartford School District COVID Response Committee recommendation that was developed in the school district. Roll Call vote:

Ms Walther, No; Mr Merrill, Yes; Mrs. Russell, No; Mr. North, Yes; Mr. Christie, Yes,

motion passed.

Mr. DeBalsi gave an overview of the plan:

suspend the mask mandate Monday March 21, 2022; follow other guidance  that has been in place: stay home when sick, test if showing symptoms, mask after exposure, continue to monitor rate of infection in the area and respond accordingly, no tolerance for bullying or harassment, mask may be worn if student/family chooses, and notify families when there has been a positive case identified. 

Chris McSherry said that bullying goes both ways, he’s heard that some children are asked about their vaccination.

Ms Walther wants to make it clear the board does not support bullying for any issue. Mr. DeBalsi reminded the group that any bullying, teasing, or harassment for any issue will not be tolerated and need to be reported. 


 3.  Public Comments  

The public was invited to attend on Zoom link, https://zoom.us/j/97430755984,

meeting ID 974 3075 5984, or at HHS in the auditorium. CATV was recording the meeting from Town Hall.


 4. 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
Regular Meeting 3-9-2022
Appointments: Justin Bouvier, Assistant Principal at HMS; Julie Robinson, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at the Elementary Level

Mr. DeBalsi shared with the board the hiring process that was followed by both administrative hiring committees. 

Moved by Mrs. Russell, seconded by Mr. Merrill, to accept the Consent Agenda, motion carried.


 5. Next Meeting Agenda

Annual Ends Monitoring Reports Process and Review
What questions do the board want to pose to the administrators?

 6.  Adjournment

Mrs. Russell reminded the group that even though the board did not unanimously support the masking position, being they all have their own opinions, we will work together to support this.

Mr. North seconded Mrs. Russell’s statement and that he would be announcing at the second meeting in April about his future on the board.

Mr. DeBalsi apologized to the board about the kerfuffle with the location of the meeting. He spoke with Chico about the relocation and will sit down with the CATV representatives about the board’s and his position of coverage. He further thanked the board, Mr. Hathorn, Mrs. Newton, and Olivia for the understanding and guidance to make the meeting happen. 

Moved by Mr. Merrill, seconded by Mrs. Russell, to adjourn the meeting at 8:41 PM. Motion carried.


Respectfully submitted,

Cherrie Torrey

Recorder


School Board Engagement Meeting is Wednesday, 

March 23, 2022 at 6:00 PM