The Halifax Elementary School Committee met on Tuesday, Oct.13. Chair Gordon Andrews said that he had received six notices of interest to fill the vacancy left on the Committee by Bob Johnson’s resignation. The School Committee agreed to meet at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26 with the Board of Selectmen to interview the candidates.
The Committee elected to waive the full readings for the policies to be voted on. The policy on face coverings did generate considerable conversation despite the only change to the previous version being that everyone is now required to wear a mask. Exemptions are only granted for those with medical or behavioral conditions who present a note from a medical professional.
Principal Kayne Beaudry asked if the policy prohibited gators as he said that they had been allowing them thus far. Superintendent Jill Proulx said that only Silver Lake Regional were permitting gators to be worn and only under specific circumstances. Silver Lake doesn’t allow gators to be worn indoors but will allow them to be worn for outdoor sporting events as they facilitate easier breathing.
While some research has suggested that gators are not as effective as facemasks at preventing the spread of the virus, they were allowed in this circumstance as being outdoors reduces the likelihood of transmission.
Andrews asked Beaudry what percentage of students roughly did he believe to be wearing the gators. Beaudry said he believed it was only a small percentage of the students and vice principal Brian DeSantes agreed.
Committee member Alison Vance said, “I’m on board with not allowing them.” Vance also went on to say that one justification for not allowing gators may be the method by which face coverings should be removed. She said that the school where she works teaches students to take their face coverings off by the ear loops to avoid touching the front of the mask.
Committee member Summer Schmaling asked about the seeming arbitrariness of prohibiting gators but allowing masks that may be made of the same material. Beaudry and DeSantes said that many parents have inquired as to what type of material the masks should be made of, as well as other conerns. Andrews read directly from the policy where it states that masks must be 2-ply or greater. It also states that disposable surgical masks are acceptable as are face shields as long as a mask is worn underneath.
According to the policy, gators and bandanas are prohibited. Schmaling said that the school she works in requires students to swap the mask they wear to school for a surgical mask that must be changed every four hours.
Schmaling asked Beaudry why kids were required to wear masks during outdoor recess. Beaudry said that given the unstructured environment that recess presents, it would be nearly impossible to assert the control required to ensure that students are always six feet from one another. Schmaling noted that she disagreed with the requirement.
The standing committees provided a report to the larger School Committee. The PAC representative said that nearly all students are back fully in school with only a small handful electing to do full remote. The PTO met last Wednesday when they elected Kristina Wilson as the new president.
Physical Education teacher Steve Ruisi is still trying to organize a turkey trot where safety protocols can be maintained. The PTO is “all ears” for creative ideas including brainstorming for fundraisers.
Beaudry began his principal’s report by thanking a number of people for their hand in the success of the opening of the school. He emphasized the important role parents have played calling them both “flexible” and “understanding.” Beaudry also thanked the teachers, school nurse, and school committee. Finally, he thanked Halifax police and fire as well as town administrator Charlie Seelig for their assistance with CARES Act funding as well as traffic management.
Before leaving the meeting early to head to the Halifax selectmen meeting, Andrews also took a moment to thank the superintendent, assistant superintendent, school committee, parents, teachers, and students acknowledging how much time was invested by everyone in order to open the schools.
Beaudry said that enrollment was down slightly this year with 568 total students. He said that on any given day there were approximately 240 students in the building. In addition to enrollment being down slightly, eight more students have elected to do homeschooling this year and the number of students transferring out of Halifax public school to private school increased from two to seven.
Beaudry acknowledged that the schedule for the specialists has been tricky to figure out and said that it has gone through several revisions. Currently, art and music are taught remotely while PE, library, and tech are taught in person.
Director of Business Services Christine Healy provided the financial report which included a committee vote on the operating budget for regular day and special education. The $5,794,574 budget was passed unanimously. Regarding COVID expenses, Healy said, “The town of Halifax has been quite generous and willing to work with us to make it all work.” Halifax has used part of their CARES Act money to fund additional staff including a building-based custodian and long-term substitutes at least through the end of December.
Assistant Superintendent Ryan Lynch gave a quick update on some of the resources that have been made available to staff and families. He referenced “Parent Academy” which has been setup to support parents with the various learning platforms.
Superintendent Jill Proulx said that when a COVID-19 case arises in the district, families have been receiving notification from both their building principal as well as the district. “We would rather over communicate rather than under communicate in this particular case,” Proulx explained.
Proulx also referenced Kingston being in the “red” in terms of risk and said that after three weeks there, it is recommended that a community move to fully remote learning. She said that if a decision like that were to be considered, it would be made with input from both the town’s Board of Health and an epidemiologist. Proulx noted that as of the meeting Tuesday, Halifax was in the yellow zone. “The hybrid model is holding which we are very happy about,” she said.