Robinson to Remain Chair of School Committee

Reading, MA — By a vote of 6-0, the School Committee voted to extend the chairmanship of the committee to Chuck Robinson for another year. Member Thomas Wise was elected by a vote of 6-0 as vice-chair for another year as well. Wise had been nominated by member Carla Nazzaro for chair, but the unanimous vote for Robinson occurred on the first vote.

Wise came under scrutiny at the beginning of the meeting for his response to an online post regarding Nazzaro. Member Shawn Brandt stated that he was “befuddled” by the response as he believed that it gave the appearance that Wise was speaking for the committee. Brandt indicated that this was in opposition to the recently approved social media policy. “This post did not represent the will [of the committee].” Member John Parks declared. Member Erin Gaffen agreed with Parks that Wise’s post suggested that he was speaking for the committee. “I don’t understand how we got here.” Brandt continued.

Wise accepted the critique, stating that he believed he had been speaking for himself and not the committee. “I will and need to get better,” Wise confirmed. The committee agreed to post a clarifying response to the post and review the way their new policy is implemented to avoid the issue in the future.

The committee voted 6-0 to accept a Massachusetts Association of School Committees Anti-Racism Resolution. The resolution included language committing the committee to examine policies for institutional and systemic racialized practices, incorporating the history of racial oppression into the curriculum, providing readings from diverse perspectives, and to not remain silent on issues of racism and hate. The resolution will be forwarded to the governor, legislative leaders, and members of Reading’s legislative delegation.

“What work are we committed to do to educate ourselves [on issues of racism]?” Gaffen asked in the ensuing discussion. The committee agreed to begin by reading and discussing the book Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real About Race in School, the same book that is being read by members of the District Leadership Team. The committee also plans to engage in professional development on the issue. Brandt also clarified that goals addressing issues of social justice and equity should be a part of the district improvement plan.

Superintendent John Doherty provided an update on plans for fall re-opening. The district is developing three plans for reopening: an in-person learning plan, a hybrid model, and plan for remote learning. While little has changed since the last update, progress toward all three plans for the fall has been made. Learning tools have been proposed and some have been prepared to help develop systems to make sure all learners are engaged. He also assured the committee that if remote learning becomes the plan, it will be more structured than in the spring, with more synchronous and asynchronous learning, and required attendance. Doherty expressed the frustration that many feel, “Every time we feel we have solved one problem, we open up ten more questions.” he stated.

Final fall guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is not expected until July 31. The plan for reopening will be finalized during the week of August 3 and will be communicated as soon as possible. Doherty did share that there could possibly be a relaxation of the 180-school-day mandate to allow for teacher and family training at the end of August. If this is the case, school may not begin until after Labor Day.

Director of Finance Gail Dowd reported that “significant progress” had been made on the purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) prior to the end of the fiscal year with “pallets of PPE” having already been delivered. Seven hundred devices for one to one learning, replacement laptops, and 20 hotspots have also been ordered to prepare for the possibility of remote learning in the fall. Room to room classroom assessment of the schools is continuing to determine capacity assuming three-foot social distancing will be required for in-person learning.

The School Committee adjourned at 10:50 pm.

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