Good morning and welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup!
This is our first newsletter of Black History Month. Before we get into this week’s news, we’d like to mention a few of the opportunities to learn more about Black history in town throughout February. Several highlights are listed on the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington (ABCL) website. A few events this month include:
- A Black History Month Book Talk with Cary Library, the ABCL and the Lexington Historical Society, Feb. 9, 7-8 p.m. on Zoom. Marion Kilson and Marc Saint Louis will discuss the legacy of Dr. Martin Kilson, the first Black academic to be appointed a full professor at Harvard. Register here.
- An Oral History Collection Event, Feb. 12, 10 a.m.- 12 p.m. The ABCL and the Lexington Historical Society will be collecting stories and scanning photographs at the Archives and Research Center at Munroe Tavern.
- LexSeeHer, LexArt and the Lexington Historical Society are collaborating to hold a month-long exhibit “Free and Not a Slave: The Legacy of Margaret Tulip,” which opens today and will remain on display at LexArt until Feb. 27. There will be a virtual opening reception Feb. 6 from 2-3 p.m. Learn more about Margaret and the exhibit here.
Thanks to all community members who have worked hard to organize these and other thoughtful events honoring Black history in Lexington and beyond.
Now, here’s this week’s news:
Week of Feb. 5: Lexington News Roundup
Reported by Sophie Culpepper
- The Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL) held its annual candidate forum Thursday night – the first local candidate forum of the 2022 election season. What did the three candidates in the contested School Committee race have to say?
- The same evening, the Historic Districts Commission and Monuments and Memorials Committee both held separate votes about the LexSeeHer monument. What were those votes about, and what happens next?
- At Tuesday’s Lexington School Committee, Superintendent Julie Hackett announced plans to reverse the 10-day quarantine policy. Why?
- Weekly COVID-19 update: School, town new cases drop for third week straight (!)
- (Note: We’re omitting our Community Announcements section this week since we included events in this edition’s introduction.)
The Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL) held its annual candidate forum Thursday night – the first local candidate forum of the 2022 election season. What did the three candidates in the contested School Committee race have to say?
Over the next several weeks leading up to the March 7 election, we hope to cover various aspects of the different races and issues – especially the contested School Committee race and the referendum seeking to overturn Article 10, including the stipulated phase-out of gas-powered leaf blowers, passed at Special Town Meeting in November. If you have specific questions you want us to try to explore related to the election, or if you want to share your perspective as a voter about either the Article 10 referendum or the School Committee candidates, please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A Town PSA: Feb. 15, in less than two weeks, is the deadline to register to vote. To determine whether or not you’re registered, you can check the Mass.gov voter website, email the Town Clerk (email@example.com), or call the Town Clerk’s Office (781-698-4558). Information on how to register to vote is available here; and, the Town Clerk’s office will be open Feb. 15 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. for anyone looking to register in person.
- Joe Pato and Suzie Barry are running as uncontested incumbents to keep their two seats on the Select Board; Robert Peters is also running uncontested for reelection to the Planning Board. But the School Committee election is another story: Current Vice Chair Eileen Jay is running as an incumbent, while Larry Freeman and Salvador Jaramillo are running as new candidates. Two seats are open on the School Committee; current member Scott Bokun is vacating one of those seats, having previously decided not to run for reelection this year.
- The majority of the forum’s time was dedicated to questions for School Committee candidates.
- The candidates bring a range of experiences and expertise to the table. Jay, who holds a PhD in education from Harvard, has been on the School Committee since 2016, and has served two years as Chair and two years as Vice Chair (her current position). Jay presented her candidacy as one defined by “experience, stability and steady leadership” based on her six years on the School Committee, more than 20 years of involvement in Lexington Public Schools, and academic interest and training in education. Still, beyond experience, Jay said “caring and compassion and listening” are crucial, and cited her longstanding dedication to helping reduce student stress and champion mental health issues as embodying these qualities.
- Freeman stressed his strong background of involvement in the Lexington Public Schools and local community alike as preparing him for the School Committee. He pointed to his knowledge of town government from serving as a Town Meeting Member; his knowledge of the school system as a parent with two current middle schoolers; and his experience supporting student mental and physical health in his role as Co-Chair of the Student Health Advisory Council (SHAC) as all qualifying him to contribute meaningfully as an elected member. Freeman is also a member of the Lexington Human Right Committee, a Board Member of the Clarke PTO and a member of the LPS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) team, among other roles. “Evaluating and improving our courses of study using the lenses of DEI will add a critical component to an LPS education, preparing our graduates for success in a multicultural society and the 21st century global economy,” he said.
- Where the other two candidates presented themselves as seasoned leaders well-versed in contributing to LPS, Jaramillo said the town needs “a candidate with a fresh perspective” – something he feels he can provide. Currently a sophomore at Harvard, Jaramillo graduated from Lexington High School himself as class president in 2020; his lived experience of being a student during a pandemic, and desire to give back to the community, drove him to run for office now, he said. Jaramillo cited his collegiate studies of molecular and cellular biology as giving him a deep understanding of the severe impacts of COVID-19 on immunocompromised people, an understanding he says he balances with his conviction that students must remain at school in person. “As someone who faced homelessness in high school and now is a pre-med student at Harvard, I understand the successes and weaknesses of our school system,” Jaramillo said. His role as a tutor to students in town, and as an older brother, mean he cares about these issues not just because of their effects on him, but “because I understand what is at stake for the future generation of our community and nation.”
Forum Questions (community-submitted questions asked by moderator Ina Jiang of the CAAL Education Committee)
We have seen an increase in hate crimes in recent years, a heightened issue for many Asians and Asian Americans in Lexington. To combat the stereotypes and bias that contribute to these attacks, what has been done in our school district? And if elected, what role and/or steps do you plan to take as a School Committee member?
- Jay: “I am personally so distraught at the increase in hate crimes toward Asian Americans, and I know all too well that this is not new,” she said, citing her own experience as one of the only Asian Americans and non-white Americans in a school system nearby growing up. As a result, she can relate to student concerns now, she said. She felt that LPS is “constantly reinforcing” a zero-tolerance message for hate and bullying, and is working to integrate more diverse histories, including AAPI history, into the LPS curriculum.
- Jaramillo: As a Korean American, Jaramillo said he could also relate to the trauma of these crimes and their increase. His mother, who immigrated to Indiana in 6th grade, told him about how little support she had when she arrived in the U.S., speaking no English. “In Lexington, we have a lot of stereotypes,” he said. For instance, Asian and Asian American students are expected to be good at math – yet “Most Asian students are just like every other student, right? They’re students who are good at different things, not just math and science. And I think we need to have that conversation.” He called for hiring of more diverse staff, something LPS has explicitly prioritized under Superintendent Julie Hackett. Still, Jaramillo recalled that in his time at LHS, one Asian American counselor was saddled with all of the students who were Asian American “because she was the only one who could relate to them.” Like Jay, Jaramillo also stressed the importance of representation in the curriculum; “many students don’t have that sense of belonging,” he said, “and in many ways, that’s why I’m motivated to do this.”
- Freeman: Freeman connected the rise in hate crimes with technology, and the ability to record and play back specific incidents. He noted that he had been asked to speak at an event in Lexington to Stop Asian Hate, and also had interviewed the high school student responsible for writing the song “We Are Proud to Be Asian,” Phoebe Tian. He agreed that increasing diverse hiring to make staff representative of the local community and including more cultural influences in the curriculum were priorities.
Many families in our communities, especially those living with elderly relatives or loved ones with immunocompromised condition, have strong concerns when the positive COVID cases continue to rise, and their students still go to school every day. In your opinion, what do you think about the current School Committee’s performance in terms of balancing among different community groups’ requirements, and eventually developing solutions to meet these requirements? How about their communication performance? What would you do differently?
- Jaramillo: Jaramillo pointed to his experience researching COVID-19 effects on immunocompromised individuals as making this question “directly up my alley… We don’t think about people who do not have functional immune systems,” he said. “And so this is something I care deeply about, and something that I always want to raise awareness about.” The School Committee needs to listen to many different perspectives, he added; still, he aligned himself with those who want to mask and be vaccinated, and said it was important to inform students about the science of the virus so there is a solid understanding of the importance of and reasons for all safety protocols. “I think we have been reactive more than proactive in our approach,” he said, suggesting that the current School Committee had inadequately prepared for future surges. Federal grant money, ESSER funds, should be used to prepare for surges in advance e.g. by purchasing PPE, in his view. Jaramillo added that it is important to have a plan to address gaps in student learning resulting from COVID disruptions, though he did not specify within the three-minute response limit what he thought that plan should look like.
- Freeman: Freeman observed, correctly, that this is a “very popular question — it’s on the minds of every parent in our district.” He candidly described his own family’s layers of challenges to balance conflicting needs throughout the pandemic; he lives in a multigenerational household, with his parents, while his spouse, as an essential worker, “was going to work every day, working with people with COVID, didn’t miss a day…at certain points, was wearing trash bags at work, because they didn’t have enough protective equipment.” As for how the School Committee handled the situation: “I feel like those decisions were based on the information that they had at that time,” he said, recalling when fear of surface transmission led people to wash groceries in the garage before bringing them into the house (before airborne transmission became widely understood and accepted as the problem). Freeman credited the School Committee for evolving their decisions as the situation and information changed; he thinks they have stuck with the science, and added that he hopes to do the same. “I definitely 100% believe our children need to be at school; I do recognize that there’s some social emotional impacts on students that we have to address at this time, that were not predicted when we closed schools,” he asserted. “But now we know, so we have to plan for that – that if we’re ever in this situation again, we will not be walking blindly into this.”
- Jay: First, Jay stressed that concerns about exposing family members to the virus were just as valid “as the concerns of other people who are coming at it from a completely different perspective.” Yet, “Unfortunately, sometimes one has to make decisions that are compromises that will not be what everyone wants to hear. And that’s just part of the situation that we’re in,” she added, a point she also made in an interview with LexObserver last summer. She reflected that if anything, the School Committee had erred on the side of safety measures to mitigate against virus transmission, “while obviously still trying to maintain as much learning as possible,” citing measures including continued mask requirements and staff vaccination requirements during this school year. One way to balance between different groups’ needs earlier in the pandemic was to offer both a hybrid and a remote option, Jay said; this year, this is not an option under state requirements, but the mitigation strategies in place with in-person learning continue to lower risk to the extent possible, she said. Still, she understands if some families feel it is necessary to keep their students home to protect family members during surges. “I’d also like to say that it’s easy from the outside to critique the decisions made by the School Committee – and believe me, we have gotten a lot of criticisms over these past two years,” Jay said. “But what I can say is that these decisions are often very, very much more complex than then many parents and community members realize.” While students come first, other factors such as having enough teachers and bus drivers are necessary to make schools function, she added. And the factors necessary to make schools run, like adequate staff, are necessary to benefit students, Jay said. The complex decision-making requires understanding of how schools work, “and understanding comes with experience.”
For years, there has been a lot of discussion and debate within the Lexington community about academic excellence versus social, emotional, physical and mental health. Unfortunately, many people treat these as conflicting concepts. The complaint about academic pressure in high school often stems from the problematic transition from the middle school to high school, because there’s so little homework and less demanding educational requirements in elementary and middle school. So, the significant increase on both fronts when students enter high school often creates anxiety. How will you address that as a School Committee member?
- Freeman: Though he noted his family had moved to Lexington for the schools, Freeman readily acknowledged that “academic rigor in Lexington Public Schools is a lot.” He proposed providing “stress management tools” to assist with skyrocketing stress levels – teaching students a balance and an understanding that “yes, academics are important – but self-care is equally as important.” He proposed developing more student outlets for stress by increasing extracurricular sports activities, and possibly considering a partnership with Minuteman High School, which offers a technical, vocational approach to learning “totally different” from LPS. In his role as co-chair of SHAC, he already discusses student stress often, he said. “[Transparency and listening] needs to increase to really embrace our student body to say, yes, we put you through these academic rigors; we expect a lot from you academically; but here are some outlets for you. Here is how you handle these stressful moments.”
- Jay: “This is a question I have thought about for a very long time,” Jay said. She doesn’t believe these two values have to be in conflict; she feels offering high-level courses is important so students can choose the right level of challenge for themselves, and does not think eliminating those courses is the answer to resolving student stress. The steep transition from middle to high school is also not the primary driver of anxiety, in her opinion – but, she does view it as an issue. While student stress may be linked primarily to fundamental concerns about the pressures of a high school record, “we can do a better job of how we make that transition from middle school to high school,” perhaps by better connecting 8th and 9th grade teachers and departments, and ensuring the work builds as more of a “natural progression.” Jay had previously advocated for having some homework in the final years of elementary school, just to “ease that transition into middle school” she noted – but this was controversial for some, and she was in the minority on the School Committee on this issue at that time, she added.
- Jaramillo: Just when he was beginning 9th grade, there was a student suicide at LHS, Jaramillo said; this “had a tremendous effect on me as a student… that was my first introduction to LHS and to what my career would be at the high school.” As someone who struggled with mental health during high school, he thinks it’s important to ensure “every single teacher, every single staff [member], every single teaching aid, coach needs be aware of the mental health resources that are available at the school.” He found it very difficult to check in with his counselor in high school, he said, because the counselor was so busy. In a different vein, reconsidering graduation requirements is another important possibility for alleviating student stress in Jaramillo’s view; currently, “there’s not a lot of flexibility,” he said. For instance, he was forced to take the maximum number of PE requirements as a student athlete, which was a waste of time he could have used to study or relax, he said. One of his tutees observed to him that there is a culture of students not feeling comfortable asking questions because they might be told they are stupid – this is another issue for student well-being, he added.
Audience Question: What have you, as an individual, done to promote diversity, equity and inclusion so that students of all identities feel that they belong?
- Jaramillo: Jaramillo cited working with LHS administrators as class president to support students of all identities, and as a peer mentor and drug prevention to give advice from his experience with a biracial background and experience with homelessness. He also mentioned using his experience as a tutor to communicate the importance of considering issues from multiple perspectives to his students. Today, as a Town Meeting Member since last year, he tries to advocate for DEI by advocating for affordable housing on a municipal level, he added.
- Jay: Some of the work with a more DEI-driven curriculum which Jay has helped shape is already in place, she noted, such as an elementary school program which opens up conversations tailored to each grade level about identities, and what those identities mean. Continuing to develop parts of the curriculum which focus on social justice and standing up for others has also been a priority for Jay, she added. She has also collaborated with others to draft legislation to support a diversity curriculum throughout Massachusetts.
- Freeman: “DEI has been very much a part of my life for a very long time…as a minority,” Freeman said. “Now, as a parent, I have really taken up the true understanding of what it means having minority children in classrooms…quite often they’re the only Black students in those classrooms. I truly understand that the inclusion part of DEI, it means everyone. It means every culture, every race, every identity. And until we achieve that level of inclusion, we always have work to do until everyone feels included – until everyone feels as though they belong.” This work includes hard conversations about differences, about the curriculum, and about biases, he said – and he has been participating in these areas of work for years, as a member of DEI councils and input teams for the schools, and the Human Rights Committee on the town side. Curriculum is especially important, but to make substantive progress, thinking beyond the schools is important too, Freeman said; “We have to think about home, we have to think about the town, we’ve got to think about sports activity.”
Audience Question: How do you see the value and setbacks of bringing digital technology into the classroom? And how to find a healthy balance to ensure our students have traditional and digital literacy?
- Freeman: Freeman deals with this challenge every day, he said; “right before this call, I was telling my daughter, ‘get off your phone,” he said. But the technological advances made, for better or worse, “are here to stay,” which means that students need to be equipped to use them. Still, healthy boundaries are important, including time restrictions for his own family to ensure social skills and development are not delayed.
- Jay: Jay too sees “upsides and downsides.” She agrees that technology is here to stay, with some clear advantages for its use in the classroom – for instance, LPS students being provided with Chromebooks “has really enabled teachers to do some things that they weren’t able to do before” with lessons and assessments, Jay said. At the same time, “I do personally lament the fact that nowadays, kids do not know how to research something in a library anymore….I regret that they don’t have those skills. And in some ways, I wish we could get them to learn how to do both.” At the same time, she thinks digital literacy is essential; given that students rely on information that comes from the internet, it’s key that students learn how to identify reliable information and be “critical thinkers and…users to information.” Finally, how technology gets used beyond the classroom is important to consider, Jay added – students need to know how to interact socially in person, and cyberbullying needs to be monitored and addressed, she said.
- Jaramillo: When doing homework with a calculator, Jaramillo’s mom always jokingly asked him what would happen if the calculator or computer didn’t work, he said. Notwithstanding that jocular steeping in the limits of technology, he thinks that educating students about navigating technology is so important – and requires offering more coding courses at various levels of school in LPS. “This is something that we are using as a community, and as an academic community as well, so I think that it’s important for students to be aware, and also to see the world of computer science and math and science ,and how they all intersect with one another. And so I think we can work on that.” All the same, the impact of technology on students’ mental and social health is a concern, he added – especially social media. There needs to be guidance on “how they go about themselves as citizens in a digital age,” a question he believes should be addressed with “fresh eyes.”
- Extra questions: Jaramillo received a couple of additional audience questions compared to other candidates. One community member asked how running for School Committee aligned with his long-term goals, and how he would handle the time commitment of also being a full-time college student; he responded that he felt he could learn from School Committee while giving back to his community, and hopes to attend medical school after Harvard, where he does not think he would be able to spare the time to serve on School Committee. As for the time commitment with college, he said he has discussed this with many different people, and “it’s something that I believe I can do. And if I couldn’t do it, I would not do it. But I think the timing of where we are right now, with the pandemic and other issues – I think this is the time that is for me.”
- Endorsements: CAAL PAC announced their official endorsement at the end of the evening; in addition to endorsing all candidates in the two uncontested races, they ultimately endorsed Jay and Freeman for School Committee.
Also Thursday night, the Historic Districts Commission and Monuments and Memorials Committee both held separate votes about the LexSeeHer monument. What were those votes about, and what happens next?
- The process: The Select Board will have the final say on whether to approve the monument for construction, and is expected to hold a vote in early March – but, before that vote, the Select Board expects LexSeeHer to get approval from the Historic Districts Commission and approval or a recommendation from the Monuments and Memorials Committee, LexSeeHer Steering Committee member Valerie Overton explained. Both of those committees met Thursday evening; the Historic Districts Commission voted to approve the monument 6-2, while the Monuments and Memorials Committee held a vote confirming that LexSeeHer met the committee’s fundraising standards for the monument. Both votes move the monument one step closer to being realized – but the meetings, in particular of the Historic Districts Commission, were not without contention.
- Debate about location in the public hearing: The Historic Districts Commission held a formal public hearing Thursday, intending to vote on whether to approve the LexSeeHer monument plan. But during the meeting, some members raised concerns about the relationship – and possible detriment – of the project to the historic aesthetic and coherence of the Battle Green Area.
- At the time of its approval by the Select Board, meeting minutes (pg. 4) note that this Master Plan was approved “as a set of recommendations for guiding the planning and design of the Battle Green Area as defined in the Master Plan, and that the Board of Selectmen [now Select Board] retain jurisdiction to make final decisions regarding design details” and on when to follow through on recommendations; in other words, the plan was approved as a guiding document, rather than an absolute rulebook, with the Select Board retaining final say over decisions about development and other changes to the Battle Green Area.
- Eccles said that the Commission had previously asked LexSeeHer to consider other sites – but other committee members interpreted and recalled the meeting differently, thinking the expectation had been to reconsider aspects of the same fundamental site.
- One commissioner, Mark Connor, was more concerned about the side of the monument blocking the view of Buckman Tavern when approaching from the Town Center.
- Commissioner Lee Noel Chase felt that the alignment of the monument with the sidewalk reinforced a separation between the Battle Green and the Visitors Center part of the Battle Green Area. “It feels aggressive to me, the way it’s placed right now,” Chase said – “it sort of tends to reinforce the edge of the sidewalk there.” Others also expressed concerns about this “axial” quality of the monument.
- But Inge Daniels, the landscape architect, said the alignment with the Visitors Center doorway offers “a subtle extension of the welcome of the Visitors Center.” Further, she stressed that the thinness and “visually permeable” elements of the sculpture keep it from being too imposing or overbearing on the landscape: “There’s a transparency, and there’s a lightness to it as well.”
- “I think one thing that isn’t being recognized in this conversation is the significance of this monument,” Commissioner Dan Hisel said, recalling that the HDC had also asked LexSeeHer to be “visionary” and bold in their design.
- “In my opinion, this is in the right place…I think asking them to move this to a different location would be akin to asking them to start over,” he added.
- The artist, Bergmann, noted that she didn’t want to mess with the bucolic feeling of the landscape by highlighting the sidewalk or otherwise interrupting the space. “Monuments,” she said, “tend to make their own space, and they tend to change the space where they are.” At the same time, “it is important that they harmonize with, and respect, and if they can, amplify the space where they are.” Like Daniels, she pointed to the monument’s permeability and pierced aspect as allowing it to land “very lightly on the landscape…from some directions, it will literally disappear.” She compared the framing of the Visitors Center door to the way a fountain might amplify the facade of a building. Still, “the importance of putting a monument to women that goes back to colonial Lexington and to the battles of the Battle Green can’t be underestimated,” Bergmann added.
- Connor expressed concern that framing the Visitors Center, of all the buildings on the Battle Green, gave too much importance to the least important structure, and could “play a part in weakening that context” of the historic landscape, defined especially by the Minuteman Statue and Buckman Tavern.
- LexSeeHer Co-Chair Jessie Steigerwald suggested that the objections to the monument location conflicted with the stated purpose of the project: To make women in Lexington’s history visible. Ruth Buckman, the granddaughter of the original Buckman Tavern Owner, is one of the women depicted on the monument, she noted – Ruth was in the Battle Green Area in her own time, and the monument seeks to make that reality visible. “The Battle Green Master Plan – if we live with that plan, there will never be women visible in our community at one of the most important historic sites in America,” she said.
- Members debated postponing the evening’s vote, but Chase in particular said it would be “onerous” to ask LexSeeHer to repeat their site review process for the Historic Districts Commission after the changes they had already made.
- Ultimately, the Historic Districts Commission voted 6-2 to approve the monument, but asked that the committee reexamine the rotation of the monument – so that it might be tilted to no longer frame the Visitors Center doors, or align with the sidewalk. Both members who voted against the monument, Eccles and Connor, said they approved of the project, but retained concerns about its location. Connor noted that “this is forever,” and he would have preferred to take a little more time to ensure all commissioners could be in agreement.
- Moving forward, LexSeeHer will work with Commissioner Bob Adams as a liaison to determine other possible rotations of the monument in the same place, to lessen the axial quality which concerned some Commissioners.
- “This week’s Historic District Commission meeting and meeting with the Monuments and Memorials Committee are positive steps forward, though the HDC meeting was quite challenging,” Steigerwald wrote in an email to LexObserver. “I was not expecting the response that Ms. Eccles presented. We thought we were clear on what the commissioners were asking us to bring forward at the formal hearing, but we definitely realize that we did not provide what Ms. Eccles was hoping to see.”
- LexSeeHer appreciated the meeting outcome, although they would have preferred a unanimous vote, she added. “We will work with the HDC to meet their condition, and look forward to working with Mr. Adams and the design team.”
- LexObserver could not reach the Historic Districts Commission for comment by press time.
- Monuments and Memorials: Meanwhile, at the Monuments and Memorials meeting, the committee voted 3-1, with 2 abstaining, to count LexSeeHer having raised 90% of its fundraising requirements as meeting the fundraising standards for the committee. Usually, the committee requires that a monument have 100% of its funds in hand to meet its standards; but, given the scale of the LexSeeHer project, unprecedented for the committee, they voted to allow the project to move forward with 90% of the funds. Nonetheless, the Select Board will not issue a building permit until 100% of the funds are raised.
- Budget: The current monument cost is $278,837, according to LexSeeHer Steering Committee Member Michelle Tran’s budget presentation to the Monuments and Memorials Committee; at least $250,000 in savings were in the bank with the Lexington Historical Society, LexSeeHer’s fiscal sponsor, with another $25,000 added that day, Tran said.This meets the 90% threshold. The entire project cost, including maintenance and contingency funds, amounts to $316,720.70, per LexSeeHer’s current estimate.
- Monuments and Memorials Committee Member Bebe Fallick voted against the budget motion; while she stressed that she supports the monument itself, she said she wanted more of LexSeeHer’s previous spending clearly visible, which the group said it would be happy to share.
- LexObserver could not reach the Monuments and Memorials Committee for comment by press time.
- What happens next: LexSeeHer hopes to continue the process of gathering additional formal votes. Next Thursday, they hope to have a vote from the Lexington Tourism Committee, as well as other committees throughout this month. The Select Board vote that matters for monument approval is hoped for March 9; while this is ultimately their vote, other committee input will inform the Select Board’s decision. The monument will take over a year to build, due to the many months required for the clay sculpting followed by the mold-making and casting; LexSeeHer hopes to have the monument unveiled in August 2023, in time for the 254th anniversary of the Spinning Protest on Aug. 31.
At Tuesday’s Lexington School Committee, Superintendent Julie Hackett announced plans to reverse the 10-day quarantine policy. Why?
We post Twitter summaries of School Committee meetings the evening they take place; follow us to get those @ObserverLex.
- The change is being made in light of declining cases among both staff and students, Hackett said Tuesday. She felt that the 10-day quarantine made sense during the height of the Omicron surge, but that data suggests now is the right time to shift the LPS policy. Teachers and nurses will remain on the lookout to pull any students aside who appear symptomatic aside, one way to reduce likelihood of infection in school even with a shorter quarantine, she noted.
- During the first of two Community Speaks, three parents spoke in favor of considering rolling back all COVID-19-driven safety protocols in order to reinstate a sense of normalcy among students. “I think it’s time for us to have the open conversation about rolling back the protocols,” parent Lori Giterman said.
- In her superintendent’s report, Hackett strongly reiterated her commitment to in-person learning, and even described trying to ensure practices like field trips can happen wherever possible. She said that while she would like to roll back masking ASAP, now is not yet the time. She added that the local Board of Health’s mask mandate, which she supports, remains in place until at least March 15.
- Another reason removing masks could be challenging now is that students with a covid-positive family member at home would still be required to mask, Hackett added — which could prove both a privacy and an enforcement issue, if masking isn’t expected of all students. She expects that the high school, which has a vaccination rate of 93.5% as of Jan. 28, will be the first building to have its mask mandate lifted when the time comes.
- Hackett also praised the state for its new initiative to provide free weekly rapid tests to those students and educators who want them — she estimated that about 2,500 students and 800 staff members had opted in so far. The deadline to opt-in for the first round of distribution was Jan. 27, but in her Feb. 2 communication, Hackett announced that families who missed the first deadline could sign up by tomorrow, Feb. 6.
- School Committee Chair Kathleen Lenihan commented that elementary school vaccination rates, which stand at 70.2% as of Jan. 28, could be higher — but, one parent who recently moved to Lexington said during Community Speak that he was impressed the vaccination rate for elementary school was that high.
- Some School Committee members reflected on continued concerns about the youngest students never having known pre-pandemic schooling. But 2nd grade Bowman teacher Catie Sawka attested during Community Speak that her students are still able to learn and enjoy school, even with precautions.
- Sawka also noted that despite these precautions, she had recently recovered from the virus and given it to her 14-month-old son, but reiterated her commitment to her students and keeping learning fun as well as safe.
- More about upcoming vaccination clinics, major teacher awards and other updates in Hackett’s full superintendent report.
- Beyond COVID, parent Tracey Dawson asked that the SC soon discuss possible next steps for building a new high school should the state not grant approval for funding to the district’s latest Statement of Interest, submitted last June. A response from the state is expected in March.
- The School Committee also unanimously passed Hackett’s FY2023 budget request, which was previously presented in a regular School Committee meeting as well as two public hearings. It will now be subject to a Town Meeting vote this spring. More on the budget here.
- Director of Public Facilities Mike Cronin also presented on various upcoming FY23 capital improvement projects across several school buildings, from flooring improvements to finalizing solar installations to HVAC replacements. Due to HVAC malfunctions recently, one building was 50 degrees, he noted — very chilly for indoor working conditions. Separately, Cronin cited inflation as an ongoing challenge in pricing some capital improvement endeavors.
- This meeting was the penultimate for School Committee Member Scott Bokun, who previously announced he will not run for reelection in the upcoming March 7 election.
COVID-19 Weekly Update: More good news, knock on wood
- While last week, Lexington had 234 new COVID-19 cases, the Town is down to 108 new cases as of Thursday, Feb. 3 — so local cases have now been dropping for three weeks straight.
- The case number outlook continued to improve at Lexington Public Schools as well, finally moving from triple digits back into double digits. As of Thursday, the school system had a total of 56 students and teachers absent who had tested positive, and just 7 students, but no staff, on quarantine. Last week, 138 students were absent who had tested positive, while 10 students and staff were on quarantine. All school buildings except the Central Office still had new cases this week.
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Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi