By SCOTT JACKSON
The School Committee does not want state officials to hand down any unfunded mandates to districts when final guidelines for re-opening schools in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic are issued.
The committee on June 10 unanimously approved a resolution urging state officials not to create any unfunded mandates when putting the new rules in place. During the meeting, committee members described the state’s initial guidelines for re-opening as “prohibitive,” “nuts” and “impossible” to meet.
The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is in the process of putting together guidelines for schools to re-open in the fall. Initial guidelines released by the state on June 5 would require students in all grade levels to be spaced six feet apart and would limit the number of people in a given room to ten children and two teachers.
The memo from the state also included guidance for districts to purchase masks for students based on 100 percent attendance, 50 percent attendance and 25 percent attendance, suggesting school systems might have to rotate students in and out of buildings.
School Committee Vice Chairman Anthony Andronico, who co-authored the resolution with School Committee colleague Kathryn Hubley, said the initial guidelines from the state are prohibitive. He said districts across the state would not have the personnel or the room to meet the requirements.
“It’s prohibitive. It’s impossible to do. If every school district had to do this, I don’t know where that money is going to come from, I don’t know where those teachers are going to come from, I don’t know where that space is going to come from,” Andronico said.
“The resolution before you essentially asks the state to not put forward any unfunded mandates related to the guidelines for COVID-19. Quincy Public Schools is in a good position now, however, if these guidelines go into place, I don’t know exactly what re-opening schools and having students would look like,” Andronico added.
“I’ve discussed this issue with many other school committee’s members, as well as the MASC Division 3 chair,” Hubley said. “She informed me that at least 20 other school committees are in the process of developing resolutions of their own.”
No personnel cuts are expected in the Quincy Public Schools next school year despite the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Other districts have had to make cuts. Weymouth, for instance, will not renew the contracts of more than 100 educators next year.
“At a time when a lot of neighboring districts are furloughing staff, cutting expenses and essentially desperate for revenue, I don’t think it is right the state is going to come in during that time period and say, ‘by the way, you also need to double your staff, purchase more building space or rent more building space so you can house them, or enter into additional collective bargaining agreements for an extended school day,’” Andronico said.
“I think it is important that they get the message that we not have any unfunded mandates when it comes to re-opening schools however they chose to do so.”
Mayor Thomas Koch said the guidelines were unrealistic and was concerned about students missing more time in the classroom than they already have. He also noted that COVID-19 has little to no impact on the school-age population.
“I think it is foolhardy for us to be going down this road of thinking we can do split shifts, having x amount of square feet per kid. It’s nut and I think we have just got to call it that,” Koch said.
“I’m not minimizing the medical community – I know there are experts on this – but no one has yet shown me how this population has been affected by it. Are they transmitters potentially? Yes, they are. We’ve learned who is susceptible in society and we have to make sure they are safe. Perhaps the kids have to stay away from grandma when they are in school – I don’t know, but if we lose another semester or year, these kids are never going to catch up on some of this stuff.”
Committee member Emily Lebo said the social and emotional needs of students cannot be met through remote learning. In addition, she said the state’s rules do not consider how they would affect parents.
“I’ve heard of kids who cry every day because they cannot go to school. The social and emotional kick on this is crazy, and to continue it is a huge mistake,” Lebo said. “The other thing I worry about [with] those split shifts is how does a parent work? What if one kid has a different shift than the other kid has?”
Committee member Paul Bregoli said it would be impossible to meet the state’s initial guidelines.
“I think we have a lot of idealists and not many realists who are telling us what to do,” he said. “What they are asking us to do is impossible. For us to continue down this path is going to lead to a whole lost year as the mayor said.”
If students cannot return to the classroom in September, Bregoli said they might never be able to recover.
“Anyone who has been in the classroom knows that from June to September, in those summer months, kids lose [some] of what they learn, and teachers would spend that first month reviewing what previously was taught,” Bregoli said. “We’ve been out since March, and I fear that if we don’t get back in September, our kids are going to be in a situation that they are not going to be able to recover from.
“They need to look at a legitimate risk assessment so that we can put our kids at ease, our parents at ease and our staff at ease, so we can…get back to school the way it should be.”