Good morning and welcome to this week’s LexObserver news roundup!
Nothing to share today except that we hope you have an excellent weekend.
Let’s get straight to this week’s news:
Week of Feb. 12: Lexington News Roundup
Reported by Sophie Culpepper
- At League of Women Voters’ Virtual Candidates’ Night, only contested precinct offers a sample of candidate perspectives on police station, gas-powered leaf blower referendum.
- School Committee candidates face tough questions about balancing vulnerable student needs during pandemic at SEPAC/SEPTA Forum.
- COVID-19 Weekly Update: Promising downward trend continues for 4th week straight.
- Community Announcements: Feb. 15 last day to register to vote; free Town COVID testing Saturdays through March 5; CALex, iGIG Town-wide Candidate Forum at 10 a.m. today; high school students can win $1K in a logo contest; Community Endowment of Lexington currently accepting grant proposals.
At League of Women Voters’ Virtual Candidates’ Night, only contested precinct offers a sample of candidate perspectives on key issues
- While there are nine precincts which contribute to Lexington’s Town Meeting, only one is contested this year: In Precinct 2, eight candidates are competing for seven seats.
- In contrast, Precincts 3, 5, 6 and 7 are uncontested, with the number of candidates running equal to the number of open seats. And in the other four precincts – Precincts 1, 4, 8 and 9 – not only are the elections uncontested: There are one to two fewer candidates than open seats for each race. That’s a difference from last year’s election, where all nine precincts saw contested elections.
- We hope to get into possible reasons that so many Town Meeting precinct elections are uncontested this year in a future newsletter. But this week, we focus on the lone contested election, taking a look at why Precinct 2 candidates are running, and what they think about two major issues in town – police station construction funding, and gas-powered leaf blowers – heading into this year’s Spring Town Meeting.
Why candidates are running:
- Matthew Cohen: Cohen is running for his second Town Meeting term, and is especially focused on DEI and environmental issues. “I’m running because I want to keep trying to give back to the town – I grew up here, and I want to do what I can to help out,” he said.
- Betsey Weiss: Weiss has lived in town for over 30 years, and her children attended Lexington Public Schools. In addition to her experience leading multiple PTAs, she’s been a Town Meeting Member since 2004, and a Housing Partnership Board member since 2003. Weiss is also an affordable housing advocate and is a member of the Lexington Field and Garden Club.
- Ricki Pappo: Pappo is running for her fourth TMM term. “I find that with each term, I learn more and more and more, and feel more connected to all of the topics that come around Town Meeting,” she said. She’s also the longtime Chair of the Lexington Climate Action Network (LexCAN); additionally, she’s part of the Lexington Living Landscape Steering Committee and the Lexington Clean Heat Alliance.
- Charles Hornig: Hornig, like others, has lived in town most of his life and attended school here. He has held several roles in town government, and currently serves as Chair of the Planning Board. He also acknowledged his extensive involvement in the League of Women Voters, apologizing for technical difficulties at the beginning of the meeting.
- Matthew Daggett: Daggett arrived late, and noted that some people could not access the Zoom meeting due to a registration link problem. “I’ve been in Town Meeting for about six years, and am happy to continue to serve,” he said.
- Rita Goldberg: While candidate Rita Goldberg could not attend the event due to a scheduling conflict, she submitted a statement to the League of Women Voters to be read on her behalf. Among issues of particular importance to Precinct 2, she cited the fate of the Stone Building, a historic building in Lexington whose long-term use is under the charge of a committee, and the inclusion of East Lexington in a proposed cultural district, a designation which must granted by the state; earlier this week, the Select Board unanimously voted to approve moving forward with the application process, bringing this endeavor one step closer to reality. As for larger town issues, Goldberg referenced “putting our money where our mouth is on affordable housing, on climate friendly measures in every aspect of town life and on the rebuilding of the high school,” as well as continuing to make the town “more welcoming and more diverse.” (In a communication Wednesday, Superintendent Julie Hackett noted that she had received a promising phone call from the Massachusetts School Building Authority this week about the request for funding for that new high school – no guarantees yet, but this update, and potential next steps, will be discussed at both the Select Board and the School Committee’s meetings next week.) Goldberg invited voters to ask her questions anytime.
- Emilie Rinard Webster: Webster, who also did not attend the meeting, submitted a statement on her candidacy to LexObserver. “I ran for Town Meeting last year to bring my perspective as a working parent of school-age children to critical town decisions on education, equity, and environmental sustainability,” she wrote. In her year as a Town Meeting Member, she has “been proud to support initiatives aimed at protecting the environment, providing affordable housing, and resourcing key infrastructure upgrades that will continue to serve Lexington residents in the future.” Moving forward, she hopes to continue these areas of work “and tackle new challenges facing our town as we work to safely emerge from the pandemic.” She welcomes voters reaching out to her. “I believe that having a diversity of thought leads to better decisions, and I would like [the] opportunity to continue to bring my perspective to Town Meeting,” she added.
- Ajay Joseph: Joseph did not attend the meeting or submit a statement to LexObserver, but did share responses with LexObserver to both of the main questions posed to candidates at the event – see below.
League of Women Voters Question: Should the funding for the construction of the new Lexington Police Station be approved by Town Meeting this spring? What do you think is the role of TMM to ensure voters in Lexington support the debt exclusion vote in June?
- In response to this question, which candidates were not informed of in advance of the meeting, candidates largely agreed on the need to move forward with building the new police station. The project is expected to cost upward of $30 million, and therefore will require a debt exclusion vote among all residents in June to actually fund the project.
- Hornig: “Should the police station be approved in Town Meeting, it means that we as Town Meeting Members have listened to the presentations, asked the hard questions, and decided that it’s the right thing to do to move forward,” Hornig said. It will be Town Meeting Members’ responsibility, he added, to work with their various social networks in town, including beyond individual precincts, to give all community members the information Town Meeting Members will have already received “in a very concentrated form” To pass, the police station funding and its impetus “just needs a lot of people talking about it all over town to get people to understand what the issue is.”
- Pappo: Pappo had a clear-cut answer to whether or not Town Meeting should pass the construction funding: “Yes.” Prior to this spring’s vote, “I believe a lot of work has been put in by many different people at all levels of the town,” she added, noting that the Select Board and Sustainable Lexington reviews of the station had especially contributed to refining a thoughtful plan for the department. The roughly yearlong pause in station construction to reexamine the role of policing in Lexington after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer was one example of “a very thoughtful process” which was responsive to community requests, she added. Agreeing with Hornig, Pappo concluded that the role of Town Meeting members is to “talk to our friends and our neighbors about the kind of thorough process this project has gone through. And yes, it’s going to require a debt exclusion. But it needs to be done.”
- Weiss: “I support a new police station. It’s time; it’s more than time,” Weiss said. She cited the recently reconstructed fire station among other comparable buildings that have been rebuilt recently when needed. Weiss suggested having residents come see the police station so they can understand why a new one is needed: “ Most people say: Why do we have to pay more money in taxes? – we have to explain why it’s needed.”
- Cohen: “It is time to move forward with this project; the police do need a new facility,” Cohen concurred. “And I do think there has been a lot of good hard work that’s gone into it from all the stakeholders involved, and there’s been a real effort to conduct outreach to really every community that would be impacted by this within Lexington.” As for the job of Town Meeting Members, “Obviously, we are leaders, all of us here in the town. And we have to take that role seriously.” This means communicating with individuals in the town both that this should be done, and also why it should be done, he added, echoing fellow candidates.
- Daggett: In addition to reiterating previous points about the importance of communicating why the building is needed, and how the new building will address those needs, Daggett said it’s important to communicate to voters that efforts are made to optimize the plans for cost. Ultimately, trusting the town’s process and the judgements of its committees is important, Daggett added: “[I encourage voters to] rely on the expertise and the other boards and the committees that are looking at this issue, have looked at it for a long time, and are saying that it is needed.”
- Joseph: “Yes, funding the police station is important – I’d listen to the debate at TMM and then decide,” Joseph wrote in an email to LexObserver. As for the debt exclusion, “my one concern is the additional tax our seniors bear and will help me in deciding how to vote on this,” he added.
- Goldberg: “I’m in favor of funding a new police station,” Goldberg wrote in an email to LexObserver. Similar to Weiss, she recalled that Town Meeting Members had gotten to tour the old Department of Public Works and fire station buildings before they were replaced, “both in shocking condition”; she has only seen parts of the police station, “but it’s clear that a new facility is required,” she wrote. The controversy about policing over the past two years has concerned issues other than the building itself, such as “training, guns, community relations and racial profiling,” she noted – but “our local police still need a decent place to conduct business in our growing community.” If the article passes, “community involvement and debate” will be key to supporting the debt exclusion, she wrote.
- Rinard Webster: “After deliberation during the fall town meeting, I plan to vote for the new police station,” Rinard Webster wrote, because “the conditions of the current building do not allow for the police to support the needs of the town in a safe and effective manner.” Due to “the recent and dramatic escalations in building costs, the budget associated with any large infrastructure expense is anticipated to continue to increase,” she added, citing Westview Cemetery at Special Town Meeting as an example. “I am open to considering fiscally responsible alternatives provided they still meet the needs of the town,” she added. As for the debt exclusion: “The role of TMMs is to act as conduit to their constituents,” she wrote. “There should be an open [dialogue] in which the TMMs can provide updates on key issues that the town is reviewing and solicit feedback and address questions from their precinct.”
Audience Question: The only voter in the Precinct 2 breakout room who was not a precinct or at-large Town Meeting Member was Jeri Zeder, who asked: Do you support or oppose Question 1, which is the referendum on the gas-powered leaf blower phase-out law?
- Most candidates, but not all, said they would vote to preserve the phase-out of gas-powered leaf blowers passed at Special Town Meeting. Many also noted that they found this issue a complex one, with compelling arguments and costs on both sides.
- Cohen: Cohen’s name is listed on the Quiet Clean Lexington website, a campaign in favor of the phase-out; he plans to continue supporting the original Article 10 passed at Special Town Meeting this fall, he confirmed. “It’s good for the environment; it’s good for noise reduction,” he summarized. He does not believe the measure will place an undue burden on businesses, but “is prepared to accept” the possibility of an increase in price for landscaping work. While a price increase would be “unfortunate…The broader costs that this would entail in not doing it seem much greater to me than the cost that might be entailed in the opposite direction. So, I am definitely in favor of maintaining the ban on the gas-powered leaf blowers and the like.”
- Weiss: Weiss takes a different view. “Unfortunately, I feel that the technology is not there now,” she said. She expects that a price increase for electric fall and spring cleanups will affect seniors on fixed incomes, and also believes the combined cost for electric leaf blowers would not be bearable for most landscaping companies, given how small some are. Additionally, she has concerns about the lithium batteries often used in electric leaf blowers, and whether they are recyclable. “So I support clean energy, and I support Green Communities, but…I think we’re just doing it too soon. We need to do it when the technology’s ready, and when the cost will not impact people in town.”
- Daggett: Daggett will continue to support the article passed at Town Meeting in favor of the GLB phaseout, he said. “I think what’s important here is to realize that these types of transformational shifts are hard, right, and they definitely have real impacts,” he said; for this reason, it’s critical to ensure that those directly impacted by the change are heard, he said. The years-long phase-in period, he argues, should allow for the adaptation to newer technology – “That said, I don’t think that the newer technology is a panacea, either.” Further, while walking through Follen Hill, Daggett heard one of the electric backpacks – “and it wasn’t exactly quiet either. It was…a different shape and tone of noise.” Overall, especially for the health and safety of workers, retaining the phase-out is “a move in the right direction – and outside of some forcing function such as this, you essentially won’t make those transformational shifts, because there will be no reason to.”
- Pappo: Pappo, too, supports the gas-powered leaf blower phase out, having voted for it in Special Town Meeting; she has a sign in her yard as well, she said. “Transitions are not easy, and we know that, but transitions need to happen. And they need to happen very quickly,” she concurred with Daggett. “Climate change is nipping at our heels, etc., etc. So this is one very small step.” While agreeing that there may be some financial impact, Pappo thinks the switch is inevitable: “This is going to happen no matter what. Lexington is putting this forth, but this is a transition that is in the works throughout our country.” She also believes the technology will change over the next three to five years, before the phase-out takes effect in 2025 for commercial landscapers, and 2026 for residents; the time frame should allow the technology to become less expensive and more powerful, she said. She agreed that worker safety is critical; “This is an environmental justice issue. You cannot put people with these polluting packs on their back where they’re breathing it in, their hearing is getting affected, their health is affected. It’s important that we say ‘we want to have some protections’ to these workers.”
- Hornig: As Hornig is slated to run next Friday’s League of Women Voters forum featuring proponents and opponents of Question 1, he declined to answer the question at Thursday’s event to preserve an impartial role – “ask me after the debate” Feb. 18, he said. The debate was originally scheduled for last Friday, Feb. 4, but was postponed due to inclement weather, which required many of the landscapers slated to speak to clear the roads.
- Joseph: “I support the referendum – yes, let the people speak,” Joseph wrote in an email to LexObserver in response to this question. He did not respond by press time to a follow-up email about whether he would vote yes or no in the referendum itself.
- Goldberg: “This is an interesting question,” Goldberg wrote in an email to LexObserver. “ I was and am very concerned about small landscaping concerns (a single landscaper with one or a couple of assistants, for example) because I know that they operate on a fine margin and that the cost of new equipment, especially requiring storage of batteries, etc., is prohibitive.” At the same time, she, too, thinks “this change has to happen.” She cited harm to workers and residents alike, and wrote “The noise and pollution are directly injurious to the health of everyone, and we’re in the possibly last stages of a climate crisis that we must do everything possible to avert.” As a consequence, “I’m against the referendum and for the conversion to electric leaf blowers,” she wrote. The lead time to the implementation is “significant” and “landscapers I’ve talked to recognize that this change is needed.” Still, she wonders if the Town could support this change and others “ to our energy consumption” with special funding, though she is not sure if this is a possibility.
- Rinard Webster: “I support Question 1, as I am in favor of limiting noise and air pollution,” Rinard Webster wrote. Though she recognizes the opposition to this position, she feels the dialogue during Special Town Meeting this fall “provided further opportunity to modify the proposed bylaw.”
School Committee candidates face tough questions about balancing vulnerable student needs during pandemic at SEPAC/SEPTA Forum
- At the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC)/Lexington Special Education PTA (SEPTA) virtual forum Tuesday evening, the three School Committee candidates running for two open seats answered challenging questions about priorities for supporting students facing some of the most formidable challenges during the pandemic.
- School Committee candidates have run in each annual Town Election since the pandemic began in March 2020. But this is the first contested School Committee race since 2017, when Kathryn Colburn bested Judy Crocker for one seat, while now-Chair Kathleen Lenihan swept six other candidates to complete the one year remaining in Bill Hurley’s term (Hurley resigned in 2017 due to health concerns). That means this is the first contested School Committee election in town to take place during the pandemic, and no matter how the race shakes out, at least one of the seats will be filled by a new member.
- The forum was intended only for SEPAC/SEPTA members, and community members have an abundance of (virtual) forums to choose from throughout this month as venues for meeting and evaluating the candidates. There were fewer than 30 audience members at Tuesday’s forum; on the other hand, 89 participants attended the League of Women Voters’ School Committee forum Thursday night.
- But the questions asked at the SEPAC/SEPTA event, centered by design around the concerns of some of the community’s most vulnerable learners, cut to the heart of some of the most poignant and thorny issues School Committee members have faced over the past three years – from the balancing act of learning safely in person, to staffing concerns.
- What did we learn about the candidates at Tuesday’s forum? (Please see our previous newsletter for an introduction to the candidates in CAAL’s candidate forum last week.)
- “I’m sorry this happened to your children:” Incumbent Eileen Jay’s opening statement carried sadness. “Honestly, to me, what’s happened to your kids, it is really a travesty,” she said. “And I’m sorry it’s happened to your children.” She acknowledged “there were periods when students didn’t get adequate services,” and that remote services didn’t work well for many special education students – “and I know that both students and parents have suffered through that. I can only imagine what it’s been like for you as parents trying to manage all that.” She wanted parents to know that she thinks about these impacts “all the time,” and that their concerns are “top of mind when we make decisions.
- “Running to be the voice of parents who felt like they were not heard”: Larry Freeman mentioned several volunteer qualifications in the community that had prepared him to run for School Committee, as he had at last week’s forum. “But what I’m most proud of is being the parent of two children,” he said. A moment later, one of his children appeared to get his attention off camera in the midst of his statement – “I’m sorry, I have children,” he quipped.
- It was when he talked about his experience of parenting during the pandemic that his remarks grew most impassioned. Freeman juggled a full-time job while his elderly parents lived with him, even as his husband worked as an essential worker: “I get what so many parents experienced, because I experienced it. I am running to be the voice of parents who felt like they were not heard,” he said. And despite his extensive community service involvement, “I still felt like no one was listening. In some ways, I still do.” His children “were not supported in a way that was meeting their needs.”
- “I know what it means to try and manage while balancing the physical health and mental health of three generations,” he added. “I am running for you because I am running for me. I am running for all of us. But mostly, I’m running for the students because no matter my complaints, it pales in comparison to what the students went through – and frankly, still are.”
- “A fresh perspective” reiterated: Salvador Jaramillo, unlike Jay and Freeman, seemed to deliver a very similar opening statement to the one he delivered at CAAL’s forum last week, not as tailored to the specific concerns of the special education community. Again, he made the case for himself bringing a fresh perspective as a recent graduate from LHS; after experiencing homelessness in high school, he is now is a pre-med student at Harvard with extensive knowledge of COVID-19 and its impacts on immunocompromised individuals, due to his experience conducting research about this at Massachusetts General Hospital.
- On LPS not providing enough support during the early days of the pandemic: First, candidates were asked about whether they agreed with the LPS decision not to provide direct services to students with Individualized Education Programs [IEPs] during the spring of 2020, which was harmful to many special education students – and what the role of the School Committee should be in such decisions and oversight.
- Freeman said he did not support that policy, and believed in a student-first approach. In fact, Freeman said he had experienced the school issuing recommendations about his daughter’s learning that did not consider her needs holistically; “they will help her in one way, but then they will harm her in another way,” he said. Any policy should be supporting students, he added, and should be informed by feedback from students and parents alike. Given the millions spent on technology, it must be used effectively, he added.
- Jaramillo agreed with Freeman that “some mistakes were made,” though he also acknowledged that some decisions made in the unprecedented situation of spring 2020 by the superintendent and School Committee alike were difficult to avoid. Moving forward, learning from that experience means having “plans in place for any scenario,” he said.
- Jay: “I can understand why people are angry and upset about that period…things weren’t perfect,” Jay said. She initially interpreted the lack of IEP services to mean a lack of in-person learning, and mentioned that concerns about safety and staffing during that period played major roles in decision-making – especially considering that special education staff are often required to work so closely physically with some special education students. Losing experienced staff who might have quit to avoid working in person, she added, could have affected vulnerable students the most.
- But the moderator later clarified that the lack of services referenced also meant remote “synchronous services.” To this, Jay did not have a clear answer. “My understanding – maybe correct me if I’m wrong about this, is that there were, in some cases, maybe not all cases, remote delivery of services,” she said, adding the caveat, “Obviously, that may have depended on the specific staff involved, and a willingness to be able to deliver those services at the time.” One woman on the screen seemed to be shaking her head as Jay spoke. Jay said she would be “happy to hear from any of you what the reality was, because it’s very hard for us to know, at our level, what some of those experiences and those realities were for families….I’d like to know.”
- On budget reductions to special ed staffing in the previous fiscal year: Next, the moderator read a question citing budget cuts to the special education budget at a time when staffing shortages “are impacting the ability of LPS to provide services to students.” He asked whether the current budget aligns with candidate values, and what budget changes they would want if elected to School Committee. (This question appeared to reference cuts in special education staff listed on slides 14-15 of the Jan. 11 FY2023 public budget hearing, which two parents had also questioned during that meeting.)
- Jaramillo called himself “an advocate of sustainability” in approaching the budget to ensure that the school district is fiscally and otherwise prepared for any situation. “We should really try our best not to make reductions [in the budget], especially when it comes to special education,” he added, and should instead look to make cuts in “technology” or “discretionary use.” Being “proactive” about addressing staffing shortages is “very necessary,” he added.
- Jay said she asked this question in the meeting “because it surprised me a little bit” and explained that some of the reductions are due to staff choosing to leave – “they are actual vacancies, that, for whatever reason, perhaps because the shortage of being able to hire people with those skills, have left us with some gaps that I know are hard to fill.” Overall, “as I understand it, a lot of it was just changes in the needs of either programs or individual student needs,” she added. But, she did not want to see cuts to the budget impacting the most vulnerable students.
- Freeman: “The easy answer is no – I will not support reducing special education budget last year, this year, or if I’m on School Committee, for the next three years,” Freeman said. “I just don’t believe that’s the place we should be cutting.” Cutting staff could lead to the expense of outplacement, he added.
- On increasing the visibility of special education topics at School Committee meetings:
- Jay said she “would welcome” introducing a standing special education update to each School Committee meeting, similar to how a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) update is included in each biweekly superintendent’s report. “I think very often, that’s something that School Committee doesn’t hear enough about, both from a budget perspective and a programming perspective.” Typically, the entire School Committee hears about new programs when they are implemented, and has two liaisons who regularly attend special education meetings, but “I feel like we aren’t informed enough” generally about special education concerns, Jay said. She hears individual stories of things happening to students sometimes that do not make it to the School Committee level, she added.
- Freeman: In answering this question, Freeman delivered perhaps the most memorable comments of the forum. He, too, endorsed the idea of a formal special education review process – “but until that is in place, I, in good conscience, could not wait, and not ask questions at School Committee, particularly things that cause harm to special education students.” This topic “resonates with me because I lived through it. It was devastating for my family,” he said – and they still have not recovered completely: “We work on this every day, trying to get back to where we were pre-pandemic.”
- “My children just require services that they didn’t get,” Freeman said. “I don’t blame anyone on School Committee for that. I believe they made the decisions based on the facts they had at that time. But I just don’t necessarily know if the impact of my child was considered. So yes, I will ask difficult questions. I’ll ask awkward questions. I’m a Black gay man, I grew up in the South. Being awkward and uncomfortable – I would not be here today if I hadn’t gotten comfortable in those kinds of situations.”
- Jaramillo agreed with both other candidates that special education is not spoken about enough, and would advocate for a review. Though not a special education student, as a formerly homeless student, Jaramillo discovered that communication was “very siloed” at school, making it difficult to discover all available resources. “I think you’d be surprised [that] whenever I approached teachers, whenever I approached counselors, or deans, or anybody, for those resources, they did not have them,” he said. As a student with immigrant parents, he understood not knowing how to navigate the system, he said – similar to students on 504 and IEP plans – so he would advocate for awareness of these students’ concerns as a School Committee member, he said.
- On how School Committee members would support Lexington compliance with recently released state dyslexia guidelines and transparency about resources for dyslexia:
- Freeman: “Early detection is key,” Freeman said, which means training all teachers to identify early signs of dyslexia. He also expressed interest in the Orton-Gillingham approach. “Reading is everything these days,” he said, adding that he tells his daughter she has to read and interpret word problems even in math. Additionally, transparency about the services and programs available districtwide is essential because “without transparency, you heighten more inequities,” he stressed. Overall, it’s key to “try to eliminate as much trauma as we can from our dyslexia students,” he added.
- Jaramillo said addressing the overall culture in Lexington is of the utmost importance, so that dyslexic students, and others with special needs, don’t ever feel that they don’t belong, or that they are weighed down by stigma. “I think many students, or even parents, don’t realize their students are facing these challenges or …developmental issues,” he said. Jaramillo also stressed teacher training as critical. His mother, as he mentioned in the CAAL debate, did not speak English growing up – “and it really affected her life all the way up until now. And it’s something where I wish somebody did something, because today, every single day, she wished that she had someone there that could have supported her…And so I want to make sure that something like that never happens here in Lexington.” He added that all students should have clear contacts within the school for support: Staff should be equipped to tell students “this is a person you need to talk to. This is the phone number, this is the email. This is someone who can help you.”
- Jay echoed the importance of early detection, especially as a matter of ensuring students don’t lose confidence in their own learning. She said the question made her want to know how some of the dyslexia screening the school had implemented was going, reflecting that the School Committee sometimes fails to follow up to check on a program’s progress once it has been implemented. She also expressed interest in the Orton-Gillingham approach.
- On the disproportionate academic + mental health pandemic impacts for the special education community, and the pandemic recovery plan’s ramifications for the community, including the decision this fall to add near-monthly half-day Fridays:
- Jaramillo: “We have not adapted to the pandemic and issues students are facing right now,” Jaramillo said. Being creative in response to the issues students are facing is crucial – e.g. by considering providing a visor or clear mask in cases where masking is inhibiting students with speech impediments or language development issues from progressing, he added.
- Jay explained that the teachers needed more time to assess what students could not keep up with, and that the move to add the half-days, by giving teachers, including special education teachers, more time to prepare to support students, would ultimately mean better support for students. But, this did not necessarily compensate for any loss in service hours, she added – “I truly do understand that this is a problem. I guess I don’t know that there’s a simple answer to that, other than to recognize that this is very much a balancing act.”
- Freeman understands why the half days were added, he said. Still, “I’m sure most people on this call know that the fewer school hours you have, the fewer service hours your child will receive. I don’t necessarily know if that was factored into the decision. There wasn’t a lot of conversation at the School Committee meeting about the half-days.” His own daughter’s “mental health and her stress are worsened when she’s not getting the support and services that she needs,” he said. “I would definitely like to hear more conversation about the impact of special education students at School Committee meetings when these kinds of decisions are being discussed.”
- On ensuring a community of kindness, support and inclusion, especially relating to special education and other marginalized communities:
- Freeman: “ What I think that the School Committee can do is, 1) support activities and programs that really take a deep dive into normalizing everyone, so that there are no stigmas in our community,” he said. “Quite often at School Committee meetings, we hear really smart and bright and brilliant students get celebrated meeting after meeting – but…our special education students, they offer tremendous positive energy in this world. And I would just love to see that emphasized some, as well,” he said. When his daughter is not supported, she feels a stigma, he said – “she feels she’s less than,” and it’s left to her parents to tell her she is not. “As a system, we should definitely promote that kindness is a stress reliever in our children to be kind to each other. Just be nice. Smile at the person that you don’t know; engage with a peer that sits alone every day; just reach out. And I think that will definitely move our system in the right direction.”
- Jaramillo said this is a question of building community, and getting everyone involved together, which he tried to do in his involvement with Best Buddies and other programs at the high school. For instance, having social events with students all together can be important to break down barriers. “There’s a lot of power with the younger generation within our community – really trying to amplify the voices, and helping them be advocates. and to get to know each other and be with one another, is very, very important,” he said.
- Jay: As in the CAAL forum, Jay cited her longstanding focus on a positive school learning culture, such as by fighting for mental health recognition upon first joining the School Committee, and working to develop the new DEI curriculum. Much of this curriculum will entail “talking about how to be kind to one another, how to understand their own identities, how to understand other people’s identities, how to recognize that we’re different, but we’re the same.” This is essential to ensure “ students feel like they truly belong – that they will be accepted and embraced as part of their community.”
- On requiring masks, considering the challenges of masking for many special needs students (e.g. as a sensory issue, a communication challenge, or inhibiting social cueing), balanced with the increased health risks from COVID-19:
- Jaramillo said he “understood both sides” of this balancing act, citing his experience researching COVID-19 at Mass General. It’s time for the School Committee to have conversations about when to relax masking requirements and other COVID precautions, as this conversation is happening on the national level, he said (something some parents advocated for at last week’s School Committee meeting). “As a School Committee member, it’s my job to take input as students, as well as the Board of Health, as well as the consensus of students, and to really look at ‘is this a smart decision?’” Now, “we are getting very close” to the time when LPS should consider taking masks off, considering the progression of the pandemic, he said. “That will involve a lot of conversations; that will involve a lot of discussion. And that will involve a lot of outreach, especially to students who are vulnerable to [COVID-19].” The bottom line is it’s important to “have a plan,” Jaramillo said. “And I think that, frankly, we don’t have a plan, or expectations, or guidelines to figure that out. And as a School Committee member, I want to help establish those guidelines” while keeping the community safe, “but also giving them the education they deserve.”
- Jay acknowledged the unique challenge masking can pose to special education students. “I think there’s a little bit of a misconception, sometimes, that the School Committee has been ultra-conservative with safety,” she said. The School Committee also wants “to get back to normalcy,” Jay stressed, including by removing masks “as soon as it seems to be the right thing, and we may be approaching that now.” Still, it takes conversation and “a lot of input from the people who have more expertise than we do,” such as the Board of Health.
- Freeman agreed with Jaramillo, saying “we should really align with [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education],” which announced this week that its statewide mask mandate will end Feb. 28. Taking steps toward normalcy is important, and the costs of masks for some special education students are important to acknowledge, he said. “We just really have to do a real strong analysis based on what we’re getting, and what we’re losing, and who is being harmed, and who is getting the biggest benefit. And I think once we come together as a community, have transparency, I feel like we’re going to reach the best decision as we move forward,” he said.
COVID-19 Weekly Update: Promising downward trend continues for 4th week straight
- While last week, Lexington had 108 new COVID-19 cases, the Town is down to 85 new cases as of Thursday, Feb. 10 — so local cases have now been dropping for about a month straight.
- The case number outlook continued to improve even more dramatically at Lexington Public Schools. As of Thursday, the school system had only 22 students and teachers absent who had tested positive, and just 3 students, but no staff, on quarantine. Last week, 56 students were absent who had tested positive, while 7 students and staff were on quarantine. Five buildings — LCP, Bowman, Bridge, Estabrook and the Central Office — appeared totally COVID-free this week.
- Tuesday, Feb. 15, 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
- Free Town PCR COVID testing every Saturday (including today) until March 5: Between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Feb. 12, 19, 26 and March 5, Lexington residents can get a free PCR test at the LPS Administration Building thanks to town ARPA funding. According to Select Board Chair Jill Hai, last Saturday’s event was not even 1/3 full — these clinics have about 250 slots each — but, you still must register to get a test; no walk-ins are accepted. You can find out more and register here.
- CALex/iGIG Forum today: Election season is going strong with the Chinese Americans of Lexington and Indian Americans’ Getting Involved Group hosting their virtual forum for town-wide candidates today, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. You can register here.
- Creative high school student in Lexington? You could win $1K: The Lexington Semiquincentennial Commission (say it five times fast..) is hosting a contest to create a logo commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, which will fall in April 2025. All high school students who live in or attend school in Lexington (including Minuteman and Lexington Christian Academy) are eligible to submit designs for the logo here, and have until March 2 at 5 p.m. to do so. The artist of the winning design will be awarded $1,000, while the two runners-up will receive $500 and $250 respectively. You can learn more about the contest and submission requirements here.
- Community Endowment of Lexington accepting grant applications: The Community Endowment of Lexington (CEL) has opened its 2022 grant application process; proposals are due by March 18 at 5 p.m. ET. Grant proposals are accepted with requests for up to $7,000; awards typically range from $1,000-$5,000. You can learn more about eligibility and the proposal process here.
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Nicco Mele, Sophie Culpepper, Sarah Liu, Vivian Wang and Seiya Saneyoshi