The wisest course is to open in full remote plan

These are my prepared remarks at the August 10, 2020 meeting of the Arlington School Committee.

I am facing the most critical decision I have made in 18 years of school committee service. This has the potential to be a life or death decision for students and staff in the Arlington Public Schools, as well as their families and the rest of our community.

I want to describe the context of the decision this committee is being asked to make tonight. There are 7.8 billion people on Earth; 331 million people live in the United States. Massachusetts law prohibits me from discussing this decision with only six other people; my colleagues on the Arlington School Committee.

The Open Meeting Law prohibits us from deliberating outside of a public meeting. I can’t talk outside these meetings with the six colleagues with whom I will share this decision. Unfortunately, the meetings leading up to tonight have primarily focused on the school administration talking to the school committee, with only a limited opportunity to ask questions of the administration.

We now find ourselves hard on a DESE deadline, with little or no opportunity for the committee to discuss our decision among each other. The key word here is decision, as the voters of the Town of Arlington have elected us to make decisions on their behalf. Our role is to decide, not ratify. Sadly, we find ourselves on the track to ratification of a hybrid plan, without evidence it is safe or educationally sound

In my view, we cannot build any plan without a foundation built on the health and safety of our students and staff. We closed our schools last March, before the governor shut down the state, because the risk of COVID transmission in our schools was unacceptable.

What is the probability of COVID transmission in September if we adopt a hybrid model? I can’t answer that question, but I am confident that the probability of bringing this virus into our schools is greater than zero.

What happens if COVID comes into our schools? Again, there is no certainty, just a matrix of probabilities that we still can’t quantify. We are told that younger children are more likely to be asymptomatic. We know that asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people spread the virus. Without a robust, frequent testing program, we won’t know we have a problem until we see the virus generate noticeable symptoms. By that time, we could have a major outbreak in our schools.

When we look at the entry and spread of the virus into our schools, is unrealistic to expect a probability of 0; but I would want that number to approach 0. The lack of testing, the lack of precedent, the lack of proven models, and the lack of reliable data places us in a position where we cannot calculate the probability of sickness and spread in our schools.

I believe the wisest course is to open in full remote plan, and reconsider as we are able to collect evidence of success from other districts. There will be other Massachusetts districts similar to Arlington that will start with various hybrid models, and we can learn from their experiences. We can observe the public health data for these districts.

Going forward, this committee needs to deliberate and discuss the steps going forward.

As I mentioned earlier, the Open Meeting Law prevents us from discussing school committee business with our colleagues. The state has determined that answering email, in which it is possible for other members can read their responses, is viewed as serial deliberation and is a violation of the law.

To that end, I would ask for information requested and required for our work to be provided in a timely manner. I would ask for documents we request to be provided without question or objection, in a timely manner. I would ask for meetings to be structured to allow us the time to talk to each other, as we work together to guide the district through this pandemic.

I believe in science, and I believe the extraordinary efforts of researchers and public health professionals will lead us toward a full reopening before the conclusion of the school year. This year won’t be easy, but we will get to a better place.

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