ARPS parents: Health director should have final say on schools

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Published: 10/23/2020 12:55:18 PM

We write, as parents and caregivers of Amherst Regional Public School (ARPS) students, to strongly advocate that decisions being made about the frequency and duration of opening and closing schools due to the risk of COVID-19 transmissions be made by health care professionals with consultation from other stakeholders and not based on the outcomes of closed-door negotiations between the Amherst Pelham Education Association (APEA), School Committee, and school administrators. 

Decisions have been made over the past three months that have deeply impacted our students and families. These decisions were made in executive sessions without direct parent or caregiver representation, and for which our only opportunity to weigh in has been through one-way public comments to the School Committee. We do not know if health care professionals were consulted and to what extent. The decisions agreed upon in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between APEA and the district do not specify scientific basis and, more importantly, were not made with the flexibility to allow for new information about the spread of the virus to be considered. 

We request that, if and when health metrics approach the scientifically-supported thresholds for school closure, this triggers a meeting with the Amherst health director to determine if the location of the cases, trends in contract tracing and most recent scientific understanding of the virus should result in immediate closure or a recommendation to proceed with caution.

The health director, in consultation with other health professionals as needed, is best trained to provide scientifically-based decisions. Teachers, staff, parents and caregivers, and other local providers such as pediatricians, social workers and therapists, should also be consulted, but the decision should be made by the health director as a third-party expert with the goal of keeping our community safe and our students learning.

The meetings, reasoning and rationale behind decisions should be public and transparent. This approach would be consistent with the MOU made between Boston Public Schools (BPS) and the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), where the ultimate call as to whether the city passing the negotiated metric results in school closure is made not by the union or the school leaders but by independent health care professionals “following the science.” This approach was confirmed in a 10-14-20 ruling by the Suffolk Superior Court.

Our teachers, staff, administrators and School Committee should not be burdened with public health decisions — they are wonderful professionals who should be able to focus on their areas of expertise. Making this change is the only way we feel that science and health-based decisions will be made that support our students and our community. 

Laura Draucker, Amherst Regional Public School parent


This letter was signed by over 81 ARPS families and submitted as public comment to the School Committee. It has been lightly edited for publication in the Gazette.

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