Letter: Petition Seeks Public Meeting To Explore Reopening Amherst’s Public Schools

Empty classroom at Wildwood School. Photo: Toni Cunningham

Dear Members of the School Committee:

We write as concerned parents and town residents to request an Open Meeting of the residents to discuss issues related to the absence of in-person learning in the Amherst public schools during the 2020-2021 school year. We are invoking Article 8, Section 1 of the Amherst Town Charter because we feel excluded from the decision-making process and would like a public airing of the issues related to this absence. We are calling on the School Committee, in conjunction with the Town Council, to hold this meeting as soon as possible given the likelihood of more parents pulling their children from the District next year if there is no return this spring to in-person learning. The issues we would like to have addressed include:

* Is our district following best practices for in-person learning as evinced by healthcare professionals, neighboring and similar towns, and scientific evidence?
* Is there evidence that remote learning is hurting our children?
* Has the school district taken appropriate safety measures to keep children and faculty safe during in-person learning?
* How is remote learning failing to serve special needs students, low income and BIPOC students in particular, and how does the school system plan to redress the situation given its stated support for social justice?
* Are the metrics that trigger schools returning to in-person learning appropriate?
* Should agreements regarding in-person and other types of learning during COVID be flexible and able to be directly revised based on the latest scientific and public health data?
* How should the grades be divided regarding the time-table for returning to in-person learning?
* Is the phased, cascading system for returning to in-person learning appropriate?
* What are the short and long-term financial implications to the town of having schools closed to in-person learning?
* What are the short and long term repercussions of parents pulling children from the district?
* Does the fact that the schools remain closed to in-person learning warrant a further reduction of the school budget for next year?
* If the schools return to in-person learning while COVID is still a significant issue, can extra money be allocated to the school budget to address any concerns that the Superintendent, faculty and staff might have?

link to sign petition: https://forms.gle/8bbjqLMqqULEzMe79

William Kaizen

William Kaizen is a resident of Amherst with children in the public school system. He is the Chair of the Public Art Commission.

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3 thoughts on “Letter: Petition Seeks Public Meeting To Explore Reopening Amherst’s Public Schools

  1. I went to the bank today. I didn’t realize I had to make an appointment first, but they let me in because no one else was there. Although I spent less than 10 minutes inside, the tellers were behind glass and stayed over six feet away when they let me in and out of the building. If workers at a bank are being so careful, I thought about asking teachers to spent 6 or more hours in close contact with a dozen or more students in a smaller space. If it were me, I would certainly have second thoughts about putting myself and, by extension, my family in such a situation.

  2. I just want to post this excerpt from the Baystate letter to the above comment.
    “As frontline providers, we were scared. We came home after our shifts and changed our clothes in the garage. We showered before hugging our kids. We stopped seeing medically fragile loved ones. It was hard, but we and our colleagues trusted in what we did know. Because of mandatory masking, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, healthcare workers in our area have maintained infection rates equal to or lower than in the general community. Our fear has been replaced by common sense practices, and well-established protocols are part of our routine. We are staying healthy and taking care of our region’s kids. Today, we know so much more about COVID-19, how it is transmitted, and how to limit its spread. We now know with appropriate distancing, masking and hygiene, in addition to environmental disinfection, the risk of viral transmission in schools is lower than the risk of transmission in the surrounding community. The National COVID-19 School Response Data Dashboard which tracks data from over 3 million students and 400,000 staff members in 5700 schools nationally demonstrates lower rates of infection in October compared to September in students and in staff as children across the country have returned to school, despite rising rates of COVID infection nationally. We know the CDC recommends that “in-person learning is in the best interest of students, when compared to virtual learning” and with appropriate measures “schools can re-open and stay open safely for in person learning”. Some experts have suggested the risk of viral transmission is increased with remote only schooling as families find alternate means of childcare and allow children to participate in less structured, higher risk activities without proper precautions. Governor Baker and his administration have been strongly in favor of in-person learning for all these reasons”

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