BRIDGEWATER-ROXBURY-WASHINGTON — The Region 12 Board of Education, meeting Monday, November 16, voted to suspend the expansion of the REACH program for the 2021 school year, citing it as a risky move at this time.

Board member Jim Hirschfield said attempting to do the REACH program was a terrible idea, especially with the many stipulations put in place, saying the process was the superintendent’s great concern.

Board member Michael Sinatra stated there is the possibility of the region having to go remote several times, which will lead the REACH program being open only for about two months. He called it a waste of taxpayers’ money if the region attempted to open with alternative plans.

Superintendent Megan Bennett had said during a previous board meeting that opening REACH was not her recommendation since there were too many obstacles and additional expenses.

She said the region would not be able to operate REACH as it has before since there are new stringent state regulations to meet and no possibility of conducting the program remotely. She reiterated the health and safety of staff and students are her priority. 

She added the district officials have been told Covid-19 cases may peak again in the area in mid-January.

Ms. Bennett also reported school officials are watching the steady spread of Covid-19 cases in surrounding areas and are constantly adjusting plans.

Since the start of the school year, the district has seen four staff members and three students who tested positive for Covid-19. She added the region has been methodical with drills on quarantining district members.

“We’re erring more on the side of caution and want to present a safe school,” Ms. Bennett said.

She said she has asked people to follow travel guidelines as the holiday season approaches and encouraged people to take the PCR test if they travel out of the state.

Ms. Bennett also addressed the stress due to technology not working properly, saying school officials are working to make it better. She emphasized distant learners are not causing a burden. 

School officials also updated remote learning schedules by breaking up the school day to avoid Zoom burnout.

As for snow days, Region 12 will switch to remote learning in case there is severe weather causing school closures. Ms. Bennett said the longer the school year extends into June, the less attention span students will have. Remote snow days will only occur if there is no disruption to electricity.

“Students are already sent home with their devices,” Ms. Bennett said. “It’s important for children to have consistency and they will keep the remote schedule the same for snow days.”

She said she recognizes and appreciates that everyone is doing their best, but noted the school district is encountering a shortage of substitute teachers and everyone at the schools is assisting in all areas of classes. At one point there were 15 staff members out, which led to a scramble to get coverage for classrooms.

In other news, Ms. Bennett gave an update on Region 12’s state of diversity and efforts to increase inclusion. She noted that by increasing efforts for diversity, she wants to make sure they don’t hit kids over the head with it, but create an environment of acceptance and understanding.

She said that while Region 12 does not have a big diverse population, they should not bury their heads on current issues.

She said school officials need to be wary of intolerance within the student population and focus on marginalized groups and learn from one another. Ms. Bennett told Voices that Region 12 is not immune from societal and political concerns seen across the country.

“Our students have seen the political divide,” Ms. Bennett said via email. “This division and partisanship did bubble onto our campuses. There is no one particular incident that we are now responding to, but rather a district commitment to make sure our students have educational opportunities to explore equity.”

She further explained the district has begun work with diversity, tolerance and inclusion in the humanities courses. The previous school year, Ms. Bennett noted, the schools explored the same subjects with consultants Paul Vivian and Audley Donaldson because equity should not be based on one event, but rather part of day-to-day learning opportunities.

“We’re are not reacting, but keeping the conversation going with students,” Ms. Bennett said.

She told school board members that Shepaug Valley School is leaning into the conversation on equity. School officials are exploring partnerships with the Anti-Defamation League called “No Place for Hate” and the Wounded Warrior Project.

They are continuing the Wingman’s Program and working with Mr. Vivian and Mr. Donaldson along with some school-based supports and programs at all learning levels in Region 12.

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