Haverhill School Committee Considers Further Coronavirus Impacts When It Meets Tonight

Haverhill school bus. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Click image above for Haverhill School Committee agenda.

Haverhill School Committee members are expected to further discuss the learning environment during COVID-19 when it meets remotely tonight.

Union members had called on School Committee members to definitively determine what coronavirus levels trigger which models—remote, hybrid or in-person—of learning. In an email last week to members of the Haverhill Education Association, union President Anthony J. Parolisi wrote “a consensus was reached to develop such a metric and recommend it to the full School Committee.” While he said the agreement came during a meeting of the school department’s Joint Stakeholder Coronavirus Response Team, School Committeeman Paul A. Magliocchetti disputes the interpretation.

“We are using metrics. We’re using the data, but it depends on the totality of the circumstances,” Magliocchetti said Wednesday. He explained he has relied on guidelines set by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Magliocchetti went on to say he is open to listening to the union’s ideas, but “Right now, it is my opinion that I don’t know what that number could be depending on how circumstances change and how COVID-19 evolves. We don’t know what these new strains are and what their implications might be.”

Magliocchetti also argues it is not the role of the Joint Stakeholder committee to advise the School Committee.

Parolisi cited a memorandum of understanding signed by the School Committee that calls for Haverhill Public Schools to “work in concert with Haverhill Department of Public Health and the Medical Advisory Team and in accordance with DESE guidance…develop and share clear metrics for moving between learning models.” The union head said a grievance was filed because the School Committee appears to be making learning model decisions without clear standards. It aired that complaint at a Mutual Concerns meeting with School Committee members Gail M. Sullivan and Toni Sapienza-Donais.

Sapienza-Donais said Wednesday it is her understanding that “everyone is in agreement we need some kind of metric.” She acknowledged, however, it is difficult for everyone to agree on specifics. She said she favors a metric that considers the virus positivity rate in the city as well as the rate in our schools. Alternatively, she said, the city could wait for all school staff to be vaccinated.

Sullivan argues positivity rates in the community and schools isn’t necessarily the appropriate standard. She cited a virus outbreak at a local nursing home that that sent the city’s rate soaring, but didn’t “really pose a threat to our children.” Further, she said, children might be better protected from the virus when they are in school six feet apart, wearing masks and being monitored.

Meanwhile, Magliocchetti also seeks to find out if those schools that do conduct four-day-a-week in-person learning could accommodate the children of first responders and other frontline personnel. He notes English language learners, special education students and others make up the cohort C continue to attend in-person classes. He plans to ask if there is capacity to add children of those of work in the medical field or other essential workers who are needed at their workplaces.

Whatever is decided, Magliocchetti said, “It is of utmost importance that we all work together to get through this. We not only have to listen to each other, we have to hear what each other are saying.”

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