WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Thursday agreed to a new decision-making process for moving from remote to hybrid instruction and issued a public statement condemning last week's racist incident at the high school and promising the district will "do better."
The district's administration has for weeks been negotiating with the Mount Greylock Educators Association to modify the memorandum of agreement that allowed the start of classes back in September.
The newly negotiated agreement "places more emphasis on local context and relies less on state provided metrics," School Committee Chair Christina Conry said.
Key to the new agreement is a six-person committee to include three representatives drawn from the School Committee and administration and three representatives from MGEA. That committee will utilize two non-voting public health advisers in its conversations and meet at least once a week to review the public health conditions with regard to COVID-19.
If the committee takes no action, the district will be governed by a modified version of the metrics that triggered remote or in-person instruction under the previous MOA.
"If either town is 'red' per the state's color-coding metrics on a given Thursday, the district will move to remote learning effective the following Monday," Conry summarized the agreement. "If both towns are 'yellow' or better for two consecutive Thursdays while the district is in remote learning, the district will move to hybrid learning effective the following Monday."
But the six-person committee has the final say, the agreement states. By a majority vote, the committee can override either of the triggers activated by the red and yellow designations.
Conry said the agreement will go into effect at the end of next week, making Feb. 8 the first day that the district's three schools possibly could return to hybrid learning, which utilizes both in-person and remote learning for most students.
"It's entirely possible that we could remain in remote [Feb. 8] due to COVID numbers this week, next week and the decisions of the committee," Conry said. "Families and staff need to be prepared for both possibilities and we will provide as much preparation and advance notice as possible."
Conry opened the special meeting of the committee by reading a public statement acknowledging the racist Zoom bombing in a high school virtual classroom.
Conry said the committee recognizes community members are looking for more details about the incident, but asked the public to understand that the Jan. 21 incident is in the hands of law enforcement. And the district is not currently at liberty to provide more information.
The statement also notes that the incident shows the North Berkshire community is no stranger to the broader issue of systemic racism that pervades the nation.
"In some ways, we live and work in an idyllic area, but we are not immune," the statement read. "We are not immune to the kind of hate that was perpetrated against our Mount Greylock student and we must not be complacent in its face.
"Not only was this a personal hateful attack against an individual student, but it was also an assault on our entire community. Ibram X. Kendi writes, 'The only way to undo racism is to constantly identify it and describe it — and then dismantle it.' The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee condemns in the strongest terms this act of racism, and we want to make clear that as a community we will not tolerate it."
Superintendent Jason "Jake' McCandless later echoed the point that the Mount Greylock community is "not immune."
"The Multicultural Student Union from Mount Greylock presented a letter that will be included in our next School Committee meeting in February," McCandless said. "Those students … very wisely said that we cannot stand and say, 'This is not our community. This is an anomaly.'
"It doesn't define our community, but this level of hate and disrespect for a fellow human being is, sadly, part of every community, everywhere."
School Committee member Jose Constantine agreed.
"When events like what transpired last week happen, they make clear what is ever clear for many folks in our community — families of color, students of color and many people of marginalized entities," Constantine said. "I think it's important to recognize that this is a challenge, an ongoing challenge, and one that perhaps always will be."
Curtis Elfenbein was one of the committee members to see hope in the way the wider community reacted to the incident.
"I'm happy to have seen the outpouring in our community, both in and around the school and families from all the schools and members of the community who don't have that direct link to the school at this time but are still aware of what's happening — how everyone has rallied to find ways to dig deeper into our understanding of how our kids are interacting with each other in this digital era, particularly around ideas of race, gender, gender identity," Elfenbein said. "It's really reaffirming to see how the community has come together around this."
Michelle Johnson noted her appreciation for the quick response of Mount Greylock's administration and its transparency to the community when the incident occurred.
As part of its discussion Thursday, the School Committee voted 7-0 to reaffirm an anti-racism resolution passed by a prior iteration of the committee in October.
The new statement issued on Thursday included a call to action.
"We have got to do better," the statement read. "Words are not enough. Dr. McCandless has spoken recently of the district's commitment — operationally, financially, and from a strategic planning perspective — to make the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging a core thread of everything we do at Mount Greylock.
"In the coming weeks, the School Committee will review all applicable policies to make doubly sure that we are taking every policy step possible. We must also ensure that every future policy decision and budget approval we make as a School Committee should have at its core the question - how is this decision contributing to a culture of equity and belonging?"
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