A season that is usually marked by back to school shopping and apple picking, August and September of 2020 were anything but ordinary. Residents came out in force in the recall election, ultimately voting to allow Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado to retain her seat on the Board. The election, which had dominated town conversation both in-person and virtually since February, was finally over. This season also saw the introduction of hybrid learning for Reading Public School students, as well as the resurgence of local art downtown.
In an August 6th meeting, the School Committee voted to approve Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Doherty’s plan for a phased-in hybrid learning format for the upcoming fall semester.
“Doherty’s proposal, outlined in a written statement earlier this week, referred to a “phased-in hybrid approach” that would bring cohorts of students back to school in a phased approach rather than an all-at-once approach. Students in the RISE pre-school, those with disabilities in special programs, and other students determined to be at risk would be coming to school in-person every day except Fridays. All students will begin school with remote learning until it is their week to begin the in-person portion of hybrid learning.” reported Kevin Vendt.
Doherty also gave parents the option to choose to keep their child in full remote learning model if they did not wish to participate in the hybrid model. Doherty proposed that students attend in-person schooling in cohorts (designated “A” and “B”), with students switching off being in-person for a week and being remote for a week.
“During the first week of school, the week of September 15, all general education students will be remote learners except for grade six cohort B. During the week of September 22, all general education students will be remote except for grade 6 cohort A and grades k-2 cohort A. This phasing continues until a pattern of one week of remote learning is followed by one week of in-person learning occurs for all cohorts. In the proposed schedule, grades 3-5 cohort A and the grades 9-10 cohort will not have in-person learning until the week of October 5, and the grades 11-12 cohort will not be in-person until October 12,” reported Vendt.
Masks would be required at all times during the day, and parents were asked to screen their children for COVID-19 symptoms every day before sending them to school. The School Committee voted 6-0 to amend the plan slightly, giving Doherty the leeway to adjust the model based on the “phase” of reopening the state.
Art came to Reading in the form of utility boxes in August, as local artists competed for the opportunity to spruce up seven electrical boxes downtown. This was the first major public art program that the town has ever funded and was designed with the hope that the new art might help to increase foot traffic in the town.
“The utility boxes selected to feature these new art pieces are located at key gateways across the downtown area, including the common area at the Salem Street and Harnden Street corner, the corner of Haven Street and Main Street, and Elm Park at the corner of Washington Street and Main Street” reported Julia Corbett.
The seven artists featured were Catherine Johnson, Kim Garrity Matthews, Megan Coram, Ruth Clark, Matt Baynes, Ethan Bennett, and Steve Greco.
One day after the contentious September 1st recall election, it was announced that Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado would retain her seat on the Board.
“With 51.7 percent of registered voters casting 9,647 votes, Reading voters, by a vote of 3,831 to 5,641 chose not to recall Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado” reported Kevin Vendt.
The election, which was run concurrently with the State Primary, came after an affidavit calling for a recall of the Board member was submitted by former Select Board member John Arena, which called into question Alvarado’s handling of the hiring of Police Chief David Clark. The affidavit was signed by 397 residents and alleged that Alvarado had acted to block the hiring police chief.
“The affidavit continued, stating, ‘The Select Board is not empowered to select, assist or interfere with a candidate appointed for Police Chief; it may only vote to ratify the Town Manager’s selected appointment’” reported Vendt.
As a result of the failed recall, Alvarado will retain her seat on the Select Board until at least April 2021, when she is up for reelection.
Local art was celebrated in the form of the Downtown Reading Art Walk (DRAW), which occurred from September 6th to 27th.
“The Downtown Reading Art Walk evolved from the Reading 375 celebration event Paint The Town. Renamed this year to Downtown Reading Art Walk or DRAW, this to be an annual event to showcase local artists’ artwork in downtown storefront windows. Over 25 artists are participating in this year’s art walk. Displayed will be oil, watercolor, acrylic, mosaic, and mixed media works of art,” reported The Reading Post.
The art walk was meant to be self-guided, allowing residents to enjoy the local art while still social distancing.
In a September 8th Select Board meeting, Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado expressed her gratitude for her ability to retain her Board seat after the September 1st recall election.
“Town Clerk Laura Gemme reported that prior to the election, 6,891 ballots for the recall, and 6,899 ballots for the primary were mailed out to voters. Gemme specifically thanked the National Honor Society students and other volunteers for helping with the mailings. She also reported that there were just over 2,400 early-voting ballots, as well as just over 4,500 in-person voters. Gemme continued that she expects ‘the same thing in November’ though given that there will only be one election, it will be less chaotic,” reported Kevin Vendt.
In a September 14th meeting, the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) reviewed a proposal for a possible expansion to the Reading Animal Clinic.
“Attorney Brad Latham, speaking for the clinic, shared that the intention is to build a new 10,959 square foot two-story wood-frame building on the lot next to the current building. Latham described the current location as ‘cramped’ and that the new building would ‘better serve clients and patients’,” reported Kevin Vendt.
The new building would also require 47 parking spaces to be shared by the two buildings.
“As the lots are separate, CPDC chair John Weston suggested that a documented shared parking agreement would need to be submitted prior to the approval of the project,” reported Vendt.
On September 23rd, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced that a Middlesex Country Grand Jury indicted Reading Police Officer Erik Drauschke of manslaughter in connection with the February 3rd, 2018 fatal shooting of Alan Greenough.
“Town Manager Robert LeLacheur and Police Chief David Clark reported that Drauschke, who has been employed by the Reading Police Department since September 2006, had been on paid administrative leave since the incident on February 3, 2018, consistent with the department’s collective bargaining agreement. As a result of today’s indictment, that leave has been changed to unpaid pending the outcome of the court proceedings,” reported The Reading Post.