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Hoosac Valley Wants Joint Committee to Determine School Reopening

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley Regional School Committee hopes to create a committee that would have the power to determine when the district shifts between learning models.
 
The committee voted Monday to ask Superintendent Aaron Dean to open negotiations with the teachers union to propose the creation of a panel that would have the ability to vote to reopen schools for in-person learning.
 
"I think we have a plan that will accommodate everyone's needs and keep everybody safe," committee member Regina Hill said. 
 
Dean would serve on the committee along with a cabinet member and a School Committee member. The remaining three members would be members of the Adams-Cheshire Teachers Association bargaining unit. Local health authorities would also be involved with the committee but as nonvoting members.
 
"That way you would be making an informed vote," Dean said. "If people feel like they are safe they are going to move on it."
 
Now, the decision purely sits with Dean.
 
On Jan. 29, the School Committee voted to begin a phased transition back into hybrid learning after hearing from parents at a special meeting about the difficulties their children and families were having because of fully remote learning.
 
The plan was to return to hybrid learning this week, however, the administration felt public health data did not support this. Adams, as of Thursday, was still considered in the "red level" for transmission of COVID-19, one of only two towns in the county at this level. Because of this, the officials decided it would remain fully remote the week leading up to winter break, which begins Feb. 15. 
 
"We hear and understand people's concerns and people's frustration through all of this. This is not easy on anybody," Dean said. "This is hard stuff, and there is no easy decision."
 
According to district guidelines, if one of the two member towns is two weeks in the red, the district moves to remote learning. Once that level of risk decreases, schools can reopen for hybrid learning. Dean said this is actually less restrictive than other area districts.
 
Chairman Michael Mucci said it doesn't take much to send the community into the red because of Adams' population.
 
"We are in a spot where the definition of red does not work out for us when we are just a couple of cases over," he said.
 
Adams had both a higher average daily incidence rate and higher percent positivity rate on Thursday than the week before. Over two weeks, it had 34 new cases for a total of 220. Cheshire, which had a spike a month or so ago, was lower in both categories, with only eight new cases and 2.28 percent positivity rate. It is in the lowest level, gray.
 
Mucci asked if there was a way to bring stakeholders together to discuss using alternative metrics.
 
School Committee member Michael Henault felt a committee would afford the district this flexibility.
 
"I think it is in line with the language in the [memorandum of agreement with teachers] and respects that relationship between the union and our governing body," he said. "I believe that healthy relationship is important for the future of our kids."
 
Member Adam Emerson abstained from the vote that passed with the rest of the School Committee's support.
 
Before the committee jumped into the actual agenda, it did open public comment to the 70 or so attendees participating remotely.
 
Mucci did note that Monday night's meeting was not a special meeting so there would be less of a conversation between the committee and the public. He asked those wanting to speak to keep it to three minutes.
 
However, only three or four people spoke, mostly asking the committee to consider moving more aggressively toward hybrid and full in-person learning and to adjust parameters that would allow the district to safely remain in hybrid learning. 
 
In other business, the committee appointed Erin Milne as the new Adams representative to fill out the few years left of a vacant seat.
 
"Public schools, in particular, are just something that are very important to me personally and professionally," she said. "I really think they are the lever in which we can really make meaningful changes our communities, bring out equity and really ensure that everyone in our community from the time they are a student is able to achieve the best version for their own future."
 
Milne, the director of assessment at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, said she has a child in the district and has volunteered throughout the district at many levels. She was on the committee charged with updating the regional agreement and served on a superintendent search committee.
 
Before the unanimous vote, the committee also interviewed applicant Kerry Columbus.
 
Mucci encouraged Columbus to stay involved and consider running for a seat in the future.

Tags: COVID-19,   HVRSD,   remote learning,   


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Cheshire Receives Funds to Address Route 116

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town has received partial funding through a MassWorks grant to pave a portion of Route 116.
 
Highway Superintendent Robert Navin told the Selectmen on Tuesday that the town received $200,000 from the state to pave about half of the state road.
 
"That is the big news and at least we can pave the worst half of it, the upper section," he said. "That will be as soon as the weather breaks."
 
Navin said the town first applied for the project in full through MassWorks, but they were unsuccessful.
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