School Committee March 7 Meeting Summary

School Committee members John Roux and Jen Davie.

The Sanford School Committee met March 7, 2022. The start of the meeting was delayed due to a student hearing held prior during executive session. All members were present.

Communications

Chair Paula Cote said an email was received from Sarah Ouellette, who wrote that she would like to have face masks be optional in schools. There were no other communications or public participation.

Social Workers Presentation

Several of the district’s social workers gave a presentation on their work. Gayle Fallon of Sanford High School, Devyn Talbot of Carl J. Lamb School, Delani Townsend of Margaret Chase Smith School, and Gabby Sawyer of Sanford Pride Elementary all participated, as did outreach workers Leah Marks and Cecilia Sirianni. The timing was apropos as that day was the first day of National School Social Work Week.

Ms. Fallon said the social workers get referrals from school counselors and teachers, the school assistance team, from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, as well as from outside mental health providers and doctors’ offices. Some students needing services are also identified by the elementary schools’ screening process. Some referrals actually come from the students themselves, or their friends who recognize when a little support is needed. At SHS, the most frequent reasons students are referred to the social workers are anxiety, depression and home-related issues. At the Middle School, social skills and relationships are also among the most common referral reasons. At the elementary level, self-regulation issues result in the most referrals.

Ms. Talbot and Ms. Townsend spoke about the groups that are offered to students, including grief, anger, anxiety, decision making, study skills, self esteem and substance abuse. Groups are usually two to six students and there are eight to eleven groups at each school. Social workers also meet with students individually. The focus is on prevention of problems.

Ms. Marks and Ms. Sirianni work with outside agencies and families to solve problems. They said there are many agencies providing services in our community, which helps to reduce the burden on the school system. Reaching out to families when kids first enter Kindergarten makes it easier for the families to ask for services if they need them later. They showed statistics on homelessness among the student population. Sanford currently has about 58 students who are either displaced or homeless, and the number is increasing.

Committee Reports

Construction: Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson reported that the tripping issues with HVAC units at SHS/SRTC is still being investigated. The contractor thinks the outside air dampers are not closing quickly enough, and will be back next week to make some programming changes to see if that solves the problem.

Scheduling Advisory: The Committee has begun reviewing schedules from the schools that send students to SRTC, and from other career and technical education centers, and discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each. They are still developing a survey to get input, particularly from seniors and juniors who have experienced both the five-block schedule and the “skinny block” schedule.

Sanford Performing Arts Center: Ms. Cote reported that the dance competition and recital season is starting next week. Eight different organizations have rented the facility. The final two performances in SPAC’s Spotlight Series – the Rodney Marsalis Philadelphia Big Brass show and the Savion Glover/Reg Gaines show, have been rescheduled for next season due to Covid-related delays. SPAC Director Brent Williams is in talks to bring Menopause: The Musical to the theater. Tickets for the SHS spring musical Mamma Mia are on sale now.

Superintendent’s Report

Student Representatives: John Paul Alexandre reported that prom tickets will be on sale next week. The prom is open to juniors and seniors, and will be held at River Run in Dover on May 14. Ticket are $65 per person or $125 for a couple. If you want to sponsor prom tickets for students who couldn’t otherwise afford them, contact junior class advisors Mr. Kane or Ms. Baker. John Paul also reported that the Unified Basketball team played their final home game, and the entire school gathered and lined the hallways to make a human tunnel for the athletes on their way to the Gym.

Bella Farrington reported on the senior class fundraiser with Above and Beyond Catering.

Safe Return to Schools: Mr. Nelson put up a spreadsheet of attendance numbers which he said were trending in the right direction, along with other data. It was agreed to hold the discussion on masking until New Business.

Positive News: see separate story.

Director’s Reports

Pre-K Expansion: Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere said the Pre-K advisory team has been working through the logistics of getting the expansion up and running. There will be no charge for Sanford/Springvale children to attend Pre-K and breakfast, lunch and transportation are included. The application form and more information are available here.

Wellness Team: Mr. Bussiere said the team is conducting a wellness challenge for school department employees this month. They are being asked to track their wellness habits and will earn points to win prizes by doing so.

Policies and Procedures: There were no Policy and Procedure readings, they will be held at the next meeting.

Reading is Fundamental: Curriculum Director Beth Lambert said the district has been approached by Reading is Fundamental, the largest nonprofit children’s literacy organization in the US. RIF is partnering with the Bingham Trust to provide three free books to each child in Pre-K, Kindergarten and grade 1. Ms. Lambert has reached out to the school librarians to help choose the best books. Each book will have a book plate so parents will know where it came from. RIF is hosting a one-hour webinar on March 16 at 7:00 p.m. on how and why to read to children.

Summer Programming: Ms. Lambert said several of the programs from last summer will continue this year, including high school credit recovery. She is looking to add more middle school content as well. Specific programs offered will depend on staff interest and availability. School Committee Vice Chair Amy Sevigny suggested adding some social/emotional content or groups to the schedule. Committee member Jen Davie suggested reaching out to other entities in Sanford, for example the libraries, to host weekly book groups or other activities.

New Business

Masking: Mr. Nelson gave an update on where the School Department is with regard to masking. Maine CDC has announced that effective March 9, universal masking in schools is no longer recommended but is optional. He emphasized that the change is dependent on continued stability in Covid trends including hospitalization, outbreaks, absenteeism, etc. He recommended the School Committee vote to update the Safe Return to Schools plan to make masking optional for students and staff effective March 9.

Ms. Sevigny said she felt strongly that masks should not only be made optional, but that the department’s other Covid mitigation strategies should be discontinued as well. “It’s time to let them sit together,” she said. Ms. Cote agreed, saying distancing would be too difficult for kids to maintain without the reminder of masks. She said she recognized that it would be a logistical issue for schools to remove plastic and reorganize furniture.

Ms. Davie suggested that masking be made optional on the 9th, but that the physical mitigation measures should be removed beginning the following week. Committee member John Roux agreed that an incremental approach on that would be best. Committee member Jonathan Mapes said some of the plastic barriers are screwed in place and it might take some time to get them all down.

Student Representative John Paul Alexandre advocated to have masks made optional immediately, a day ahead of schedule, but Mr. Nelson said the Wednesday date had already been announced to parents and staff, and he preferred not to send conflicting messages. He reminded JP that Kindergarten and first grade students had never attended school without face masks and might need time for teachers to explain the change. He also asked for some time to deal with the physical mitigation strategies.

Ms. Cote suggested that the masking and other strategies be dealt with in separate votes. The Committee then voted unanimously to take the Superintendent’s recommendation and make masking optional in schools as of Wednesday, March 9.

After lengthy discussion on what constituted mitigation strategies and what would be the proper timeline, the Committee voted 4-1 to “suspend mitigation strategies” as of the end of the school day on Friday, March 11. Mr. Roux, who had expressed concern that the timeline was being rushed, was the negative vote. The motion did not specify exactly what mitigation strategies were being suspended. All members expressed approval of suspending physical distancing and removing plastic barriers. Ms. Davie had said she was in favor of continuing to make pooled tested available. Ms. Sevigny said she felt that handwashing and symptom checks should continue as those strategies didn’t apply specifically to Covid. Other Committee members did not express either agreement or disagreement with their statements, so it was not entirely clear if pooled testing or symptom checks will continue.

Mr. Nelson said the facilities staff would do their best to get barriers removed by Monday. He added that students who are more comfortable with physical spacing will be allowed to do so.

Staff Changes: Mr. Nelson read through the list of staff changes. It was noted that CJL teacher Karen Kantolak is retiring as of August 31.

The full meeting video may be viewed here.