Pandemic Plans, Mental Health Report, and Technology Fees
The School Board met as the “Committee of the Whole” on Wednesday, February 2, 2022. If you missed it, you can watch the livestream on Youtube and read the agenda on the DASD website.
What is the Committee of the Whole? The Committee of the Whole is when the full Board meets, before the official Board Meeting. They use this time to review every decision that will need a vote at their Board meeting the following week. So the Committee of the Whole offers a valuable sneak peek at the month’s agenda. As usual, our own take on things are in italics.
The meeting began with the Superintendent’s report. Dr. Lonardi used her time to discuss the state of the pandemic and the current Health and Safety Plan.
There’s good news—the Omicron numbers are trending sharply downward in Chester County. Cases are at 525.73 per 100k, less than half of their peak two weeks earlier of 1188.79, and still declining. (See more at the Chester County Health Department.)
The superintendent described an overflowing inbox now bursting with public input about the Health and Safety Plan. Many would like masks removed immediately. Many others would like the current CDC-backed Health and Safety Plan to remain in place (which mandates masks in substantial-to-high transmission, a.k.a. cases over 50 per 100k).
The superintendent proposed leaving the plan unchanged for February and requested that the board revisit the plan in March. She suggested that in March, it might be time to talk about making masks optional regardless of local transmission rates.
We are very appreciative of the school’s metrics-based plan to continue requiring masks until our community incident rates drop to moderate level. Our children under 9 are still only 36% vaccinated, according to the county update from last week, meaning that transmission in schools will increase significantly if masks are no longer required. With breakthrough cases and variants still a considerable risk, sticking with the metrics-based plan makes the most sense to keep our schools open and operating smoothly. Also, removing this plan means that we severely limit our ability to add masking back as a mitigation measure in the future. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that things have the ability to change very rapidly and it’s important to remain open to adapting.
Mental Health Audit
In 2020, the school board commissioned a Mental Health Audit. Meghan Dennis, the Director of Pupil Services, presented the report.
The district worked with the CCIU to complete the audit. There were focus groups and community surveys as well as tracking processes and how often resources were used in school. One strength mentioned often was the sense that teachers are supportive and invested. Another strength mentioned was the special ed support available for students with IEPs and GIEPs. Some challenges included time and budget constraints, as well as low parent turnout at public mental health events. We’ll include a link to the full report when it’s available; in the meantime, watch the livestream starting around 12:04.
Committee updates and Technology fees
The personnel, curriculum, policy, facilities, and technology committees shared reports and action items for approval next week.
Last month, at the January 5 meeting, several public commenters raised questions about the annual technology fees. The fees were first explained as optional insurance, then made mandatory the next year. The costs are waived for families who qualify for free & reduced lunch, but they can feel challenging for families above that income line as well. Since there is no cap per family, the annual costs can become especially steep for those with 3 or more children in public school.
The board listened to a report from the technology committee and considered several options at this meeting.
DASD’s tech-for-every-student approach costs $1.68 million per year in repairs. Right now that cost is mostly balanced by the fees ($75 per K-8 student per year, $100 per 9-12 student per year)—they bring in $1.06M. It’s effectively a hidden tax.
The board explored adding a family cap of $125 or $250 per family, referencing the $250 family cap on activities fees. They next explored lowering the tech fees to $50 per device, which is a common price point among neighboring school districts. They considered an optional repair fee, and finally looked at no fee of any kind. Both these last two options were linked with small millage tax increases of 0.26-.68%.
The Board made no decisions tonight; this was a preliminary report about options.
There was brief public comment, mostly about masking. One person asked for masks to be removed, while three people asked for staying with the current guidelines and to enforce them more strongly.
Call to Action
Please email your school board members (see post here on how to raise your voice) and let them know that you are in favor of keeping masks required at high and substantial community levels until a significant amount of all kids under 19 are vaccinated.
The next meeting is Wednesday, February 9, at 6:30. See you there!