The Sanford School Committee met Monday, October 18, 2021. All members were present. The student representatives were not present.
At the start of the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson spoke about longtime physical education teacher Rich Wilkins, who passed away on October 8 after a brief (non-Covid) illness . Mr. Wilkins dedicated much of his life to students and student/athletes, and had a huge impact on all those he came in contact with. Mr. Nelson said it was a very big loss for the School Department, and asked for a moment of silence in Mr. Wilkins’ honor.
The minutes of several prior meetings were approved.
Public Comments: Kevin Eaton, a parent of two students in Sanford schools, spoke to ask questions and share concerns about his daughters, who have both been close contacts of positive Covid cases and have had to quarantine multiple times as a result. He asked why the schools are not all following the same rules with handling of close contacts, and said it was frustrating when one could go back to school, but not the other. He also questioned why he was not allowed to know where his child was in the building when the contact occurred. He said sometimes students get pulled out of class for one reason or another, and he wanted to make sure there really was contact with the positive case. He said his oldest daughter is fearful of falling behind in her honors classes at school. He complained that kids are not allowed to play sports if they miss a practice due to quarantining, and they feel they are being punished for events that are out of their control. He said he understands the difficult job that school administrators are facing, but is asking for the School Committee and staff to advocate for the kids in Augusta.
Construction Update: Mr. Nelson said the meeting planned at Sanford High School to discuss the HVAC issues and do the required testing of the system had to be rescheduled to mid-November. At Margaret Chase Smith School, all work is being wrapped up, and the heating system and hot water are functioning properly. At Sanford Middle School, technicians were on site two weeks ago to investigate sounds in the ductwork, but the issue is not solved yet. At Sanford Pride Elementary, the playground installation is finished. There is an issue with the kitchen water heater not getting up to the right temperature, and that is being addressed.
Schedule Advisory Committee: Mr. Nelson reported that the Committee focused on Spartan Time, and there was consensus that it has value, although it may need some minor tweaking.
Senior Class Trip: Kelly Foley, a teacher at SHS, introduced a proposal to offer an annual senior class trip, beginning with the Class of 2023. The trip would take place during February vacation, when most sports and other activities are not happening, to allow as many students as possible to participate. The trips would be run by Education First, a Boston-based company that is a leader in the educational travel industry with over 50 years of experience. For the 2023 trip, an 8-day excursion to Europe is planned. Ms. Foley did not want to make public specific details as to the destination or cost until the official announcement is made to the students, but Committee members were given additional information. The trip price would cover all expenses except lunches and spending money. A payment plan will be available, and students are expected to do a lot of fundraising to help offset the cost of some activities. Teachers will act as chaperones on the trip, at a ratio of 1:6. Education First offers insurance if the tour date needs to change or the pandemic worsens. She hopes to have 24 students participate in the 2023 trip. The Committee voted unanimously to support the proposal.
Safe Return to Schools Plan: Mr. Nelson reported that school superintendents had a meeting with Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. Dr. Shah told the group that frequent testing is safe, and he strongly recommends pooled testing even for students and staff who have been vaccinated. Dr. Shah also said that an outbreak at a school does not imply anything negative about the school, it just signals that an investigation is being done to prevent a few cases from turning into many. He said once vaccines are approved for kids age 5-11, school systems across the state will be the focal point for the rollout, and that clinics are already being planned for early November.
Mr. Nelson stressed that although the standard operating procedures regarding Covid exposure in school can lead to confusion and inconsistencies, it is important to remember that students who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine if they are exposed to a positive case. He said the abrupt closure of Sanford High School last week was prompted by 31 cases being diagnosed in a two-week period. Of the 31, only 7 were fully vaccinated. He said we will only get to the point where schools don’t have to go remote or kids won’t have to quarantine through vaccinations and pooled testing, and that Sanford schools have a long way to go on both fronts. He reported that the staff vaccination rate is now just over 80%, up from 75% in September.
Committee member Amy Sevigny said she has heard from many families who are being affected by multiple episodes of quarantining. She said the public should reach out to Maine CDC, which is responsible for the standard operating procedures that schools have to follow.
Chair Don Jamison advocated for vaccination. “If you are eligible, get it done, get pool tested. It will help us move away from this,” he said.
Social-Emotional Learning: Mr. Nelson said that SEL is an important part of the school curriculum right now due to what students have experienced during the pandemic. He described the programs for different grade levels and talked about the social workers who have been added to the staff. They are planning small groups for students to discuss things like anxiety, social skills, anger management and depression. An additional teacher has been hired to teach SEL skills to Kindergarten and first grade students. At the next School Committee meeting, he will talk more about the new “support and transition rooms” at each school that give stressed-out kids a chance to calm down and reset if needed.
Beth Letourneau, Director of School Counseling, gave more details on what her department is doing to help kids at this difficult time. She said about 75% of students have some kind of support plan now, although many are not formal intervention plans, but may involve checking in with a teacher, school nurse or counselor when needed. She said counselors are not able to check in with kids who have to quarantine because, due to HIPPA privacy laws, they don’t have access to that information, but they can do so if parents voluntarily provide it.
Ms. Sevigny asked if Zoom groups could be set up for kids who are at home, so they don’t feel so isolated. Mr. Nelson said although they do have to protect students’ privacy, he will check into what can be done to reach out more to students in that situation. Mr. Jamison encouraged parents of children who are feeling isolated or anxious to contact the school and let them know.
Good News From Sanford Schools: see separate story.
English Speakers of Other Languages: see separate story.
Teacher Workshop Day: Curriculum Director Bethany Lambert reported on the workshop day for teachers held October 8. For elementary teachers, a major focus was on identifying and helping kids who are working below their grade level. Middle and high school teachers had math and science workshops. Mr. Nelson said SRTC teachers attended a remote conference that day to give them a chance to network with their counterparts across the state.
Ms. Sevigny asked for some clarification on the Johns Hopkins survey that has been sent out to parents. Ms. Lambert explained that if a parent has multiple children in the same school, only one survey needs to be completed, but if children are in different schools, one survey should be done for each school.
August Financials: Business Manager Cheryl Fournier gave the August financial report. Full details are in the meeting packet here, beginning on page 98.
Resignations, Appointments, Nominations: Among the list this month, Mr. Nelson noted the resignations of both varsity tennis coaches. Shaylynn Gagnon was nominated as the new Elementary SEL teacher for the district.
Policies and Procedures: The second reading was held on the updated policy and procedures on Physical Restraint and Seclusion, to align with a new state law. The Committee approved it unanimously.
Future agenda items: Mr. Nelson requested a Committee workshop to discuss a grant opportunity for the Pre-K program. He said it is time sensitive, so it will be scheduled for Monday, October 25 at 5:00 p.m.
Calendar: The next School Committee meetings will be held November 1 and 15.
The full meeting video may be viewed here: youtube.com/watch?v=Bjst8iOaPZY&t=5223s.