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By now, everyone reading this has two things in common with one another:
- A position on the COVID-19 pandemic
- Specific choices you have made in your life as a result of that position.
If you are a parent or guardian, your position, and the subsequent choices you’ve made as a result of that, have shaped the choices you’ve collectively made for your family.
Despite all that makes our children in this community unique, the one thing they all have in common is that they look to their parents or guardians for guidance.
You are the ones who make them feel special, you are the ones who make them feel most safe.
The ability for a child, growing up in their most formative, vulnerable years to know that they have someone that they can look to for support, knowledge, and wisdom is irreplaceable.
When you first become a parent or guardian, you quickly discover that no matter how much advice you get from others, there is no playbook. Just as every child’s journey into adulthood is their own, so is that of the people who raise them.
I have always told my daughter that I have three jobs:
- My first job is to keep her safe, because if she is safe and healthy then that is the first step to living a good life.
- My second job is to make sure she grows up to be a good girl, because being “good” means that she knows the difference between right or wrong, the importance of being kind, and the self-confidence to help others feel good about themselves.
- My third job is to help her understand how to make good decisions, because there will be times in her life when her Daddy and Mommy are not around, and she has to decide things for herself. I tell her that when those times come, whether she is making decisions for herself or others, she needs to know how to make the “safe” and “good” decision.
When you consider that the individual dynamics of every child and family unit are different, it’s impossible for anyone to judge the positions others may take and the choices they make without the specific context of their lives. Even then, despite the best of intentions, one must realize that their judgement is a result of looking at the context of someone else’s life-through the lens of their own.
This lack of a “parental playbook”, coupled with the reality of how the unique context of our lives shapes the beliefs we hold, and the subsequent choices we make is why a basic trust between the parents and guardians of children in a community is so crucial.
When I was no longer a “new” parent, I quickly realized that my three jobs as a father required me to widen my perspective. I began to understand that it wasn’t just my child, but I had to also consider the world the child would grow up in.
- In order to keep my child safe, I had to consider the safety of the children she grew up with and around.
- In order for my daughter to grow up to be “good”, I had to consider what I could do to positively impact the environment that her fellow children grew up in.
- In order to help my daughter understand how to make “good decisions”, I had to focus on her holistic educational experience. Rather than being told “what to think”, she needed to learn “how to think”, because there is a big difference between the two.
During this period of personal growth, I internalized the idea that being who my daughter needed me to be for her, required me to have those same feelings for the children of others around her.
Why in the world is someone that you don’t know, writing a letter to the editor, talking about things that are uniquely personal to them one might ask?
In sharing my own parental journey, I am telling you about events that solidified positions I have on how best to help my child reach their full potential. Those positions manifested themselves in choices I knowingly made in support of my child.
I am writing this letter to make every parent or guardian in Reading aware that your rights to have a position and your right to have choices have already been stolen from you.
I’m writing to inform you that the rights of every family in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are being actively and intentionally subverted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as we speak, and the School Committee that you elected to represent you is a willing participant in that steal.
I’m writing to tell you that regardless of what your opinion, position or choices have been in relation and in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, your ability to have an opinion, position or make choices about anything in the future is about to permanently vanish.
I am writing this letter because, despite all that makes us, as parents different- the desire for our children to live in a world where they have the right to have an opinion, form a position and make choices for themselves and their loved ones, is a foundational value that we are all charged to safeguard as parents.
I am writing that letter because, if the families in this state do not come together on this single issue right now, our children will grow up in a world where they don’t remember that they once had the right to opinions, positions, or choices of their own.
This is not hyperbole, this is not political, this is real and every parent who wants the best for their child needs to understand and confront this threat, head on, right now.
Let Me Explain.
For those of you who do not have the stamina to watch 4-hour long School Committee Meetings in which a handful of people actively try to reshape the reality that your kids live in, while 1 (sometimes 2) people do their best to hold the line in defense of the reality your kids do live in- I don’t blame you.
The truth of the matter is that you don’t get much truth in these meetings at all.
If you are lucky there are, 2-3 minutes of combined nuggets of truth in that 4-hour slog. The “truth” is a mixture of what isn’t said, what people are really getting at when discussing issues that concern your children, and the occasional slip of the tongue.
Keeping up with the School Committee is a labor of love- a love for my child. I need to understand the positions and choices that the School Committee makes because they impact the three jobs I need to do for my child. It also impacts your children which impacts my child.
The whole thing is a circle.
If you recall, the positions and choices that the School Committee has made for our community during the pandemic has frequently included the adherence to “guidance” set forth by the CDC, our Board of Health and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, better known as “DESE”.
What is DESE and What Does it Do?
DESE functions as an advisory, support and accountability entity for over 400 schools around the Commonwealth. Their function is to safeguard the standards of public education in Massachusetts and provide communities the support they need to maintain and surpass those minimum standards.
DESE also serves as a clearing house for what politicians who live off the dole would call “state funding”. For everyone else, DESE serves as a clearing house to give your community a portion your tax dollars back to your schools to ensure your child gets the quality of education commensurate with your tax investment.
When it comes funding, DESE has a couple of programs that schools leverage. Depending on the funding vehicle (take grants for example), this money is ear marked with a use case. More recently for example, there were a series of pandemic related grants made available to communities for cleaning, PPE, HVAC modifications etc.
That said, the primary source of funding from DESE is called Chapter 70 funding. This is, in large part determined by the number of children enrolled in Schools within a given district. While not exactly distributed on a “per head” basis, instead DESE uses a model that is linked to “in person learning hours”. The idea here is that there are a certain number of in person learning hours required for teachers to properly cover their part of the Elementary and Secondary Educational curriculum.
This is why we have to extend the school calendar year when there are too many snow days (for example). Despite being in the best interests of your child, falling short of “in person learning hours” actually costs School Districts money. The more you know, right?
At this point you might be saying to yourself:
“This all seems reasonable to me, so what’s the problem?”
Just as one cannot pass judgement on others for their position or choices without context, the context of how DESE is supposed to work with towns, and the role your School Committee plays in that process is everything when it comes to understanding how your rights as a parent (and taxpayer) are vanishing.
Here’s the Problem.
For as real and serious as the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic has been, it’s been a once in ten lifetimes opportunity for people who think they know better than you do, to circumvent the rules and laws that govern society to impose their will upon you…whether you like it or not.
There’s a phrase “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The world we live in today is the embodiment of that phrase.
Remember when you lived in a country where you paid taxes and voted for people to represent you?
Yeah, that’s over.
When people talk about “build back better” and the “great reset”, what they really mean is that the world you once knew; where you had the ability to have an opinion, have respectful discourse, consider all angles of an issue, form your position, and make the right choices for you and your family has been replaced.
That life you knew, the life that your child hasn’t had the life experience to know, is being edited in real time, by a wave of unelected, highly ideological “intellectuals” who are doing everything in their power to bring forth a new “order” from the chaos of this pandemic.
“The Problem” is that a society that discourages critical thinking. encourages the compartmentalization of facts and publishes data without context has opened the door for the world to change on a dime.
I realize this is a “hot take” and I wouldn’t blame you if you said:
“This is ridiculous, the decisions that I made on my own volition were because of what I knew and how I felt about the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The problem aren’t the decisions you made for yourself. I’m here to tell you that whatever concessions or decisions that you have made, for reasons of your own, with the vision of things going back to “normal” will never happen because the people you are trusting to give that power back to you have no intention of doing so.
That’s the problem.
How Can This Be True?
Well, it wouldn’t be if our Federal, State and Local government worked as it should. But they don’t.
It’s fundamentally broken.
As our children progress through Elementary and Secondary Education, they will learn that our country was founded and constructed (literally) to insulate people from the very things that are happening to all of us today.
Federal, State and Local Government, each virtual duplicates of themselves with bodies within those tiers that work in a system of checks and balances- all in protection against authoritarianism and in protection of the people who pay for it all.
We find ourselves at the precipice of our most basic rights vanishing for three reasons:
- Unelected, outside interests have come together to tell you what to think, how you should feel, who is credible, who deserves your compassion and how you should perceive yourself.
- These same people have coerced the people you elected and subsidize to either actively impose their vision of what they think is best for you or to simply step aside and enable it.
- Because the people you elect know the limits of their powers, they cannot outwardly violate that which they are bound to serve, so they instead transfer that responsibility to the administrative level of government to do their dirty work for them.
The “administrative level of government”, those entities filled with people you didn’t elect, whose terms may or may not end. These are entities like DESE, governed by a Board of 12 unelected, appointed people who themselves are run by a Commissioner who is (you guessed it) appointed. Entities like DESE end up serving as the indirect enforcement agents of your “new” reality.
So How Does This Affect My Child and My Choices?
Have you noticed at any point during the last year, just how many people and entities you wouldn’t have previously dreamed of running your life have taken a regular role in it?
Under “normal circumstances”, despite this level of coordination, our government’s structure makes the trampling of our basic human rights very difficult. But in a “state of emergency”, and in the name of an emergency, these same entities can effectively take as much power as people allow them to take.
This is what you’ve seen at every level, regardless of where you land on COVID-19, masks, or vaccines. It’s undeniable and the fact that this behavior has extended beyond the “State of Emergency” in Massachusetts ending should serve as a serious wakeup call.
- Local Boards of Health filled mostly with parents just like you and me now have a say over what you do, where you go, how you act, what’s safe and unsafe.
- Local School Committees filled with unpaid parents, each with diverse backgrounds but none of which qualified to make sweeping public health policies that effect your children.
In each of these cases, the rights, and privileges that you hold most sacred are literally in the hands of these people, supplied with information from the unelected, administrative level of government with only “common sense” standing between your family and disaster.
Which brings us to DESE, the School Committee and the Subversion of Your Family.
The idea of “because DESE said so” has been a “go to” for the School Committee in this town to relinquish their ability to operate in your best interests and, in some cases, operate at all.
This all started in July/August of 2020 when “DESE” was used to justify the fact that John Doherty polled and sold the community on the idea that the opinions of the families in our community mattered when it came to the “Back to School Model” for their children.
During that School Committee Meeting in 2020, only one member of the Committee asked the only question that actually mattered to the parents of this town:
“Do we need to abide by DESE’s guidance?”
John Doherty stuttered for a moment and said:
It was then, when I knew, our town didn’t need to abide by DESE’s guidance.
It was then when I also knew that, had Doherty told the truth, he would have opened a can of worms that was not convenient for how that meeting needed to go for him or any Committee Members he was colluding with to ram through his decision and impose that on the families of this community.
In August of 2021, I attended a School Committee Meeting that was held two days before they were slated to vote on the mask mandates for the start.
Knowing how polarizing the topics were, I came as a friend to the School Committee and as an advocate of the entire School District.
- I suggested that the “goals” here were to make the school buildings safe and to consider how all aspects of the policy that the School Committee would agree upon might impact “safety” and the wellbeing of children.
- I recommended that those who desired a vaccine should be provided one.
- If “safety” to some meant masking their child, I suggested that a Reading Public Schools provided N95 quality mask (the only mask that actually inhibits the spread of the aerosol particles) should be provided to anyone who wants them.
- I suggested social distancing remain the same, the cleaning regimen remain the same and in accordance with best practices.
- But more than anything I implored the Committee to trust in the community they served to exercise what they felt was best for their child and support those choices with things that actually work.
I was thanked for my comments, and two days later 50 emails “for the mask mandate” were packed in the School Committee Packet. Over a quarter of which were virtual carbon copies of themselves.
Of course, if you weren’t one of the 4 people who typically attend these meetings you might not have known, but that’s how our town government operates. It runs on the “illusion of consensus” and relies on your ignorance of what they are doing and why to exist.
They voted in August that your kid’s old navy mask that is washed every two weeks and lives in the bottom of their backpack was a better idea than what I suggested. They imposed a unilateral mandate on the School District, in large part because “DESE” said so.
Which Brings Us to the Day All Was Revealed.
On November 4th, 2021, the School Committee was slated to “revisit” their position on the town’s mask mandate.
In the weeks leading up to this I had received letters and emails from parents whom I did not know, expressing their concern about their child’s welfare and exasperation about what they could do about it.
I thought about attending and offering another public comment, but I heard that shortly after the meeting I spoke, Chair Tom Wise implemented a 3-minute rule for public comments. For those that don’t understand, this is a tactic that School Committees who aren’t considering the community they serve and don’t care about the people in it use to shut you up and move things along.
Knowing this wasn’t a 3-minute speech or rant I emailed Tom, alone as the Head of the School Committee explaining much of what I describe in this letter and asked him three questions:
- Has DESE or any entity that provides the School District with funding, sent the District notice that noncompliance with their “public health guidance” will directly translate to lost funding?
- If yes, who said it, how much money does it represent and where is it being spent?
- If true, if the people and children in this town are being held hostage by DESE or any other entity by way of the conditions of the funding they provide, and they are unaware of this fact, what exactly is the purpose of the School Committee?
Wise never felt the need to respond to me which, is revealing in and of itself.
Luckily, our new Superintendent happened to be looking into the same thing and, at that meeting, he became the first person in two years to tell our community the truth.
He stated that he investigated the “teeth” DESE intended to use to enforce their “guidance”.
After some digging and speaking with others at DESE, he was told that the unelected, appointed Commissioner of Education was prepared to ONLY count in person learning hours for (1) vaccinated students and (2) unvaccinated, masked students towards the town’s “in person learning hours totals”.
If you just spit your coffee out, I don’t blame you.
In other words, “DESE”, by way of the subsidies they funnel into your, district using your tax dollars, made it clear that whether or not your child was in school or not, if they weren’t vaccinated or wearing a mask, to DESE- it was as if your child did not exist.
- In their recent guidance DESE also provided towns the opportunity to file for the privilege of having the fully vaccinated students and staff take off their masks permanently, so long as a minimum of 80% of the students and staff in a given school were vaccinated.
- Our Superintendent rightly saw this as a non-starter because he viewed that as creating a second class of students with the support of School Committee.
It is in these moments where you see the hypocrisy and disingenuous nature of the people who want to impose their decisions onto your family whether you like it or not.
You’d think that DESE, an entity who historically…
- Has had nothing to do with public health policy whatsoever
- Whose function is to ensure the best possible learning environment for all students
- Who says it stands for the equity and equality of all students
…would roll out a policy that contributes to the identification and public shaming of faculty, staff, students, and their families simply for what they believe in and the decisions they make.
Let’s Talk About The School Committee’s Role in This.
We’ve established that context matters, so now that this revelation has come forth, it’s natural to ask:
“Has the School Committee always been subservient to DESE and organizations like DESE without the public knowing about it?”
The answer is no, and you do not have to take my word on it either.
Mere seconds after our Superintendent relayed his conversations with DESE, Shawn Brandt looked around the Board and stated (I’m paraphrasing):
“Boy it took them long enough; we could have used DESE to say something like this last year”.
Remember what I said about nuggets of truth?
In other words, just so everyone understands:
Whatever prevented the School Committee from honoring what 80% of families and 60% of its own staff voted for in 2020, there wasn’t any explicit consequence associated with diverging from DESE’s “recommendations” at the time. They just made it appear that way by telling parents we “couldn’t” go against DESE so you would shut up and go along with it.
Shut up, don’t ask any questions, and go along with it.
But here in 2021, our School Committee is being extorted by DESE and they are using your tax dollars to do it.
What Does This All Mean?
It means that every member of your School Committee that voted to go along with the mask mandate and heed DESE’s guidance…
- Charles Robinson
- Shawn Brandt
- Sarah McLaughlin
- Erin Gaffen
…effectively sold your family’s right to have an opinion and choose what is medically safe and appropriate for your child to DESE in exchange for money.
If you happen to be someone who has chosen to support a mask mandate…
It is important that you understand that the four individuals who voted to adhere to DESE’s ludicrous overreach have set forth a precedent that will have made your opinion meaningless on issues in the future.
In fact, in doing so, these School Committee Members relinquished their ability and the ability of the future School Committee Members who have yet to replace them to have an opinion or make independent decisions of their own.
The only people to vote in support of your family and children were Tom Wise and Carla Nazzaro.
So, in front of a packed house of 4 people, it was decided that you no longer had any rights or choices as a parent over the bodily autonomy of your child.
By their vote on November 4th, your School Committee said loud and clear that whoever gives them money, has the right to impose their will on your child, no matter how nonsensical it is.
While some were quick to caveat their position with statements like:
“DESE will reevaluate their stance on January 5th once vaccines from 5–11-year-old children are widely available.”
To anyone with a brain, it is a foregone conclusion how that will play out if you listen to DESE themselves:
- DESE issued guidance that effectively states your child does not count if he or she is unvaccinated and unmasked.
- Nowhere in DESE’s guidance is there any mention whatsoever of herd immunity or natural immunity (aka antibodies).
- In fact, the only students who count in the classroom are vaccinated children or unvaccinated children wearing a gross Old Navy mask around their face that serves no medical or scientific purpose beyond optics.
When you realize that this “public health guidance” cannot even mandate masks that are effective in stopping the spread of this virus without revealing that they have knowingly forced children across Massachusetts to wear masks they knew were ineffective for 18 months- “just because”.
Also, despite all of the specificity in the “guidance” DESE provided, there’s one thing they didn’t say.
DESE never told you when all of the masks would go away.
Instead, they made their position very clear for those who read between the lines and have common sense:
The only way the mask goes away is if all children and teachers are vaccinated.
Much like their position on the masks themselves, it doesn’t matter if you are vaccinated with a narrow resistance to the original strain of COVID-19 despite the virus having mutated twice since the vaccines started production.
They have told you what they want you to do, and they have told you what they will do to make sure you do what they want you to do.
Where Does This Leave Us?
By virtue of the School Committee’s ignorance, incompetence, or willingness to go along with tactics designed to rob this community’s children of their rights, they have failed us all.
This community has seen more than enough from this School Committee to understand that the kids in these schools are pawns in something other than a sincere effort to do what is best for them.
How anyone can have confidence in this body to make any decisions, let alone the right decisions.
How Do We Get Out of This and How Much Money Will It Cost?
This is about safeguarding the choices of the families and children in this community and nothing more.
Those in favor of vaccinating their children should have their decisions be respected, just as those who are not in favor vaccinating their children.
As Shawn Brandt said in the meeting on 11/4:
“I’m pro vaccine but it’s a personal decision and nobody’s business.”
There are two paths out of this mess:
- Top Down
- Bottom Up
The “Top Down” Approach: The families in this community need to force the Governor and DESE to address the fact that it is wholly inappropriate and damaging for any entity it to place conditions tax dollars that are not theirs, which trample on the basic human rights of the same people who fund their organization.
“Top Down” Action Items: Every family in this town should flood the following entities with calls, emails and social media correspondence making them aware that you are aware of what is occurring and that it needs to stop immediately:
- Governor Charlie Baker: https://www.mass.gov/orgs/office-of-the-governor
- Representative Brad Jones: https://malegislature.gov/Legislators/Profile/BHJ1/Biography
- DESE: https://www.doe.mass.edu/contact/
- The Massachusetts Board of Education: https://www.doe.mass.edu/bese/contactinfo.html
The “Bottom Up” Approach: Until our community is able to make decisions for itself without the threat of external funding being used against the families in it; everything about the Reading Public School System must be free of conflicts of interest in any form, whatsoever.
- For that to happen, everyone on the School Committee who refuses to act in the best interests of the entire community needs to resign immediately.
- Those that refuse to resign must publicly and clearly resolve to immediately begin fulfilling their function, politics, and ideology aside, to support the entire community.
- The School Committee should engage their dedicated Counsel to take legal action against the State of Massachusetts and DESE to directly challenge the precedent that this sets to ensure it never happens again.
That is how this School Committee begins the process to reestablish your trust and confidence.
Next, we establish how much a School District without financial strings attached actually costs:
- The total Reading Public Schools Budget is $56M.
- This is a total of an overall appropriation of $49.7M, $3.7M in State and Federal Grants, and $2.6M in Fee Based Services and Personal Grants.
- Of the $56M, Chapter 70 funding represents $10.9M or 19% of the overall budget.
Understanding the Chapter 70 component of the larger budget, we now seek to understand how much of that budget is “at risk” by using DESE’s own statements as a guide:
- As previously described, the Chapter 70 amount represents a calculation based upon the total number of students and their associated “in person learning hours”.
- DESE’s illegitimate guidance establishes that fully vaccinated students and unvaccinated masked students count towards in person learning hours.
- Therefore, every student, in every school, up until the day DESE’s official guidance and penalty was issued has 100% of their hours counted towards this budget.
- We are currently roughly 20% into the School Year with 100% of in person days to this point eligible as being counted according to DESE’s stated position.
- This means that no matter what penalty Reading is forced to pay, the exposure is capped at a pro-rated share of 80% of whatever that “full amount” would be.
Now that we are familiar with the Chapter 70 funding, its logic, DESE’s illegitimate penalties, and have capped our high-level exposure, it’s time to use these things to zero in on a dollar figure:
- Currently, roughly 82% of all students (and over 91% of all staff), in all schools across Reading are fully vaccinated of their own volution.
- The only students remaining and unaccounted for reside in the 5-11year old cohort and, now that there is the choice to be vaccinated, it remains to be seen how many families opt into this route.
- If you assume that the reasons why vaccination penetration across the schools in Reading are nearly identical represents family wide decisions then, while “unknown”, the current likelihood exists that you will see a similar penetration amongst the 5–11-year-old cohort.
- So, if we assume that there is a likely potential that 18% of the aggregate student body will choose against vaccination, the “worst case” penalty is 18% of $10.9M or a total of $1.96M
- Using DESE’s own logic and considering all hours for the first 20% of the school year will “count” we find that the real price of autonomy is actually roughly $1.57M total.
- $1.57M is 2.8% of the RPS total budget.
There you have it folks.
Your School Committee is willing to agree to a precedent that sell your rights as parents, and the rights to your child’s bodily autonomy (forever) for a little over $1.5M.
The Choice is Yours.
I hear so often from parents who share their concerns about the School Committee that:
“So many other families feel the same way but are afraid to verbalize it for fear the will be harassed online or their children will be targeted at School by people who disagree with them”.
Each time I hear this I wonder if some of that fear is a lack of understanding all that is really occurring here. This is the reason you have a dissertation masquerading as a Letter to the Editor. These issues are complex and if someone told you in a soundbite you probably wouldn’t believe it.
Now that we can realistically forecast the “real cost” of the DESE’s ridiculous mask mandate, there should be an emergency meeting of the School Committee and the mask mandate should be over that same day.
But moreover, irrespective of whatever the cost would have been, this community cannot passively accept that there is a price we are willing to pay to relinquish the rights of our children to decide what happens in their life or with their bodies.
If you’ve made it to the end of this letter, you are no longer ignorant to what is happening.
Now it’s up to, the parents of this community to choose to cast aside whatever differences they might have with one another and stand in support for the children in this community.
If we cannot come together as one now, for them, all is already lost.
I choose to believe in this community.
I choose to Believe in Reading.
Reading, MA 01867