Saturday, March 6, 2021

Letters sent to the Board of Ed ahead of yesterday's meeting

 I tailored my letters to the recipients, so there are more than one; these were sent in my capacity as a Worcester School Committee member.

To Vice Chair James Morton:

Mr. Morton,
Let me say again how much I appreciated your noting that time on Zoom was "not the emergency" in your deliberation regarding the earlier change to time on learning.
I know that you approach your work on the Board through the lens of your work in Boston and in Springfield. I would ask, therefore, that you please consider if regulations that immediately require an exception or waiver for Boston, for Springfield, for Worcester and more--the districts that are poorest, with the largest numbers of Black and brown students, that have been most heavily hit by the pandemic which we both know is not over--is a regulation that has been created with an equity lens.
I would argue that it is not. My families are entirely correct in wishing to stay with the CDC guidance of six feet (if indeed they choose to return to buildings at all), given how devastating the pandemic has been for them. Please do not force us to choose to elevate other's judgment over their families' safety.

 To Marty West:

Professor West,
As you know, I've quoted more than once your observation that we should not assume that the loudest voices are speaking for all.
I am asking that please recall that today, as it appears clear to me that the Governor and thus the Commissioner have heard from a handful, however loud. 
One thing I have always respected about your work, despite what I know to be broad philosophical differences, is you're a qualitative research person. That's what you do; it's what you teach; it's, I have assumed, part of why you are on the Board.
I have been puzzled, thus, that you haven't more closely queried some of the arguments made by the Commissioner this spring. We have no solid data as yet on the tie between student mental health and the relative modality of schools, for example, yet the entire basis of the argument for the prior shift to the time on learning regulations was based on that being substantively tied.
Likewise, the guidance the state has offered is extraordinarily poorly supported, with several of the cited pieces of research not offering the conclusions that are said to. It's shameful that this is what the state has offered. 
For us as districts then to be forced to follow that guidance over the CDC guidance (which is better supported) and that of our own boards of health is a poorly supported conclusion.
The Board, as you know, is quasi-independent for a reason. Close inquiry is a responsibility, as is, sometimes, reasoned opposition. 
I would ask that you do so today.

To Amanda Fernandez and Darlene Lombos: 

Ms. Fernández and Ms. Lombos,
I want to thank you again for continuing to be the voices of reason on the Board of Ed during this time of turmoil. At your last meeting, you both simply stating that making the change to the time on learning regulations permanent simply didn't make sense; that the arguments being made didn't fit the proposed solution; that districts now had done as instructed, anyway was greatly appreciated by many, even if you were not the majority vote. 
I am asking you to again keep your level-headed voice at the table for this Friday's meeting. 
My own district--but also, of course, so many other districts like mine--have many crowded, older buildings. The Gateways are the growing districts, in the main, after all. We also can build a new building every few years and not catch up with our need for space, let alone for appropriate ventilation and the like. 
Our students, of course, are in the main from much higher risk groups than many of our suburbs. I am always conscious of how many live with grandparents, and how many have lost relatives during the pandemic already. That may not be part of others' calculations in their decision making, but it certainly is part of mine.
And of course my district, and districts like mine, are the districts that are to be--we hope!--finally recipients of the long-awaited update to the foundation budget this year. Decades of underfunding takes a toll, however, and the options others may have taken to push more students into buildings are frequently the result of years of adequate funding. Worcester remains 700 teachers short and with a 60% funded facilities budget. 
These challenges were well-spelled out in Marcela García's column earlier this week on how Boston Prep has been open. The piece that was most telling to me: it isn't only about money. It's also about trust. 
Worcester plans to have a hybrid return for students who wish it later this month. However, even with $15M in ionization equipment, and masks, and six feet of distancing, close to half of our families still won't risk it. While my own children will return, I entirely understand those who won't. And I wouldn't send my own children back outside of CDC guidance.
That, however, is what the Commissioner is demanding. For a department that has long prided itself--rightfully!--on its use of data, the lacks in this pandemic have been appalling. As a result, I know the families in my district don't trust the Department with this decision. Nor do I. 
Districts have spent months and months working on and through plans with their local communities. To have this all exploded three months before the end of the school year, prior to teacher vaccinations and with the impact of the new variants still unknown, is simply poor leadership. 
I ask you to vote 'no' tomorrow.

To Jasper Couglin:

 Mr. Coughlin,

Over these past meetings, I have appreciated the way in which you have asked if the arguments being presented actually supported the conclusions being drawn. The mental health argument did not support expanded Zoom time, and thus you opposed the last change to state regulations.

I would ask that you apply the same standards to tomorrow's vote.

Any regulation which ignores the reality of most of the urban districts in the state is not a regulation the Board should pass. Only by ignoring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance can we and many other districts send all of our children back into buildings. In fact, as of today, the CDC would have only one county putting students fully back into buildings.

I can appreciate that not all have been as impacted by the pandemic as my city has. I would ask, however, that you make regulation that includes us, rather than requires that an exception be made for us. Anything else is not equitable. 

Thank you for your time.

And I just asked Mary Ann Stewart to vote no. She already knows the arguments.  

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