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AHS has phased into five-day-a-week on-campus instruction for more than 85 percent of its students.

UPDATED, May 28: In the shortest and least controversial meeting in at least the past 10 months, the Arlington School Committee heard good news about the high school's reopening, the virtually nonexistent Covid-19 transmission on campus in grades K-8 and district enrollment heading toward parity with the past.

"We have had a great start. Overall, it's going very well," said Principal Mathew Janger about Arlington High School, which phased into five-day-a-week on-campus instruction from May 6 through 10 and has more than 85 percent of its students -- higher than expected -- in that modality. Those who wish to attend entirely remotely may do so through next month, but fewer and fewer do. Even with so many people on campus, there is enough room to stay three feet apart when masked in class and to maintain a six-foot distance when unmasked for lunchtime whether indoors or outdoors, he said.

Flow in hallways is less than expected, so the campus is working toward moving to two-way traffic patterns imminently. With the campus having 55 doors and 33 entrances, full-time supervision of all of them is impossible, but those most heavily used will have continual adult presence.

Janger noted that propping open of doors is not allowed and that so far the campus believes it can rely on both adults and teens to notice and immediately report if anyone "inappropriate" attempts to enter. School resource officers, court liaisons and police are available as needed.

Some parents have expressed concerns to him and others that the adjacent ongoing construction may be adversely affecting cleanliness, but that's not so, Janger said. "The floors are going to be dirty -- it's a school with 1,000 kids in it," he said. "We're not going to pass the white-glove test, but it's not because of the [ongoing] building project."

Covid-19 cases down, testing up, protocols loosening

With infection rates down nationally, statewide and locally, it generally will no longer be necessary to quarantine an entire class or learning community if one person in it tests positive, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said. Generally, going forward, only the person testing positive will be sent home to isolate, and, with a negative test on day five, can return to campus on day eight.

Discretion is prudent and wise, she said, and therefore it will largely will be left to on-campus nursing staff to handle incidents on a case-by-case basis. There have been very few positive virus results at least in grades K-8, with more than 36,000 tests having been conducted to date. These have generally been weekly but may be increased to daily or near-daily, she said.

"Do we think our schools will remain safe under the new guidelines? The answer is yes," Bodie said. She added that seniors are 80 percent vaccinated and that juniors are near that threshold. Noting that the federal Centers for Disease Control is now allowing vaccination of children as young as 12, Bodie added that on-campus vaccination clinics are planned to increase.

Projected enrollment drop may not materialize

Kindergarten enrollment for September is currently projected for 505, Bodie said, though noting that the situation is "very fluid" and that "it is only May." Preliminary numbers in other grades look good as well. "It may be that the [overall] deficit that we had in [early] October will be erased," she said.

Numbers of anticipated students in all grades are a moving target and can change at any time; this is particularly true for those transitioning to high school. Currently, it appears that 70 eighth-graders are opting for Minuteman Regional Vocational High School rather than AHS and that about a dozen more are on the waiting list. 

Town Meeting discussed this issue Wednesday. May 12. Read a summary based on detailed notes by Christian Klein >>

No decision yet on going back to in-person meetings

The committee considered having its meetings -- held remotely for more than a year because of the continuing pandemic -- return to the traditional live in-person format. Any such move would need to be in concert with guidance from the town Health Department, Chair Bill Hayner noted.

"We really need to start thinking about getting back together," Paul Schlichtman said, adding that participants who need to address the committee directly still could be brought in via Zoom.

However, Kirsi Allison-Ampe asked that, even with a change back to in-person meetings, Zoom attendance should be made available for anyone who wishes it. She said the committee has had "so much better participation from our public" since the changeover to the current method 14 months ago. "We need to remember that it is a very good thing and needs to be part of the discussion," she said.

The committee voted unanimously to have the matter taken up by its Community Relations Subcommittee, which is to submit a written report on the matter by June 10.

The Select Board has discussed returning to Town Hall meetings in July and keeping Zoom access.

Summer school, job description

In other business:

  • Summer-school staffing has improved over the past two weeks, according to Assistant Superintendent Roderick MacNeal Jr., saying that only the K-5 Title 1 program is "fully staffed for all of the students we have at this time." Most other programs seek staff. He said that a detailed written report is available on the town website and elsewhere online. Read a report >>
  • The committee voted, 7-0, to accept the recommended updated job description and title for a current human-resources employee who over time has taken on major responsibilities for benefits and technology. "This role has evolved" and now "aligns with what the town has" in a comparable position, said Human Resources Director Robert Spiegel. Read the description >>
  • The committee unanimously chose Paul Schlichtman as its Mass. Association of School Committees delegate assembly representative. Read background >>
  • There were no public comments, nor was there an executive session, and the meeting concluded at 7:52 p.m. after an hour and 20 minutes.
See the ACMi video of the May 13 meeting:


This news summary by YourArlington freelance journalist Judith Pfeffer was published Friday, May 14, 2021, and updated May 28, to add an ACMi window.