The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board is not taking over the school reopening planning process after all. At a board meeting on August 5, the board voted to delegate reopening authority to the school administration and agreed that the board should play a supportive role in the reopening planning process.
This news may come as a shock to those who attended last week’s school board meeting in which many board members discussed their frustrations with the administration’s four-to-one hybrid learning plan, which requires all students in the district to engage in remote learning four days a week and in-person learning one day a week.
Those frustrations included concerns over the effectiveness of remote learning for young children, the toll on working parents, learning inequities and increased exposure risk. These frustrations even led the board to take a vote on whether or not they should take a more active role in the planning process, in which five board members voted to take an active stance, three board members voted to let the administration stay in charge and the rest abstained.
However, at the August 5 meeting, board members exuded a decidedly different tone towards the administration’s plan and its authority over it. “I don’t think it’s the board’s job to decide what the model looks like. It’s not our job to take over planning,” said Christine Sullivan, Waitsfield, after vice chair Torrey Smith brought up the question: Who is best equipped to come up with the plan?
“I don’t think it’s the board’s prerogative. I fully trust our administrators. They’ve been working tirelessly. I support the one-to-four plan,” said Lisa Mason, Moretown. Along the same vein, Michael Frank, Waterbury, added, “I trust our administration. They know a lot more about the school than I do.”
WHY THE CHANGE?
Why this sudden change of heart? Alex Thomsen, Waterbury, who last week said that expecting kindergarteners through fourth-graders to learn from home four days a week was “not responsible,” explained her newfound support for the administration’s plan.
“I wanted to clarify that, for me, the reason I abstained in my vote last week was because the timeline was so short and I didn’t have enough information to make some informed decisions,” said Thomsen. “I have no desire to take the decision-making power away from the administrative team. I trust them. They’re the ones that understand the logistics of our building and our staffing, not me. I would prefer to work with them to get our schools up and running smoothly. If a one-to-four plan is where we need to start, I can support that.”
Board member Theresa Membrino, Fayston, also rode the wave of support for administrative authority, with one caveat. “I think we need to be more prescriptive in directing our admin to create a detailed rubric with very clear and easy-to-understand success metrics for each level,” said Membrino. In other words, while Membrino agreed that “the administrative team is best suited to make the decision,” she also maintained her previous stance that the administration’s model would cause inequities in the district. She suggested that the board could help mitigate these inequities by directing the administration to release a detailed rubric of when and how it would transition away from a four-to-one model, towards more days in school.
“There’s going to be gross inequity in our district,” said Membrino, who went on to discuss the issue of well-to-do parents spending up to $10,000 on supplemental learning materials, tutors and pods. “The longer we’re in a one-to-four model, it just creates more and more inequity. I really worry about that.”
A motion was born out of Membrino’s concerns. Specifically, the motion stated that the board would direct the administration to create a detailed rubric with very clear and easy-to-understand success metrics for each level of in-person schooling (e.g. one day in-person, two days in-person, etc.). This rubric would include clear descriptions of safety thresholds that must be met in order to move on to more in-person days, descriptions that differentiate between age cohorts (elementary school, middle school, high school, etc.).
To give the administration more time to plan and organize, however, the board agreed to postpone Membrino’s motion until September 9. Still, the board did pass two motions that night.
TWO MOTIONS PASSED
The first motion stated that, “The HUUSD will implement a hybrid learning model while the state of Vermont is in step two of its COVID response. Instructional dispositions in the hybrid model will be described through administrative procedures.” Board chair Caitlin Hollister admitted that this motion didn’t have the most “user friendly” language.
In lay terms, here’s what the motion means. “Instructional dispositions” refer to styles of learning, whether that be in-person, remote or hybrid. The state dictates what “step” school districts are in (step one being a worst case coronavirus scenario with fully remote learning and step three being a return to “normal” with five-day in-person learning). In step two, the state gives school districts leeway to design their own model. Therefore, the board voted that, in step two, the current situation, HUUSD schools will open with a hybrid model designed by the administration.
In other words, the board officially agreed with the board’s plan to open with a four-to-one hybrid model and delegated school planning authority to the administration. This motion passed in a weighted vote of 83.05% to 11.7%, with 11 board members voting for it, two voting against it, and one abstaining.
However, this motion doesn’t mean that the board won’t be involved in the planning process at all.
The board passed a second motion stating that, “The HUUSD Board will continue to meet, receive updates and discuss plans and possible action to support the district’s implementation of the hybrid model of on-site and off-site instruction.” In other words, the board, from here on out, will continue to evaluate the administration’s plans and continue to make suggestions for improvement. This motion passed in a weighted vote of 83.45% to 6.7% with 12 board members voting for it and one voting against it.
As Hollister put it, “Both motions allow the board to stay actively involved, while supporting the plans that have been worked on this summer.”