LENOX – Two of the days off designated on the school district’s calendar for 2021-2022 were the subject of controversy at the school committee meeting this week, after newly elected member Veronica Fenton claimed they “went against the goal of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
She described October 11, a federal holiday traditionally known as Columbus Day, as a holiday “being reviewed by many communities as something antithetical to equity and inclusion when we try to ” teach a story that speaks factually about the history of our country. Columbus Day is not an accurate description of history, and does create a certain mythology around who Columbus was and where he belongs in the historiography of the United States.
Fenton recommended that the school district calendar designate Oct. 11, 2021 as a federal holiday and not indicate who it honors “because, quite frankly, people honor a lot of different people on that day.”
She also suggested curriculum discussions on “how we see that day,” citing previous elementary school curricula on the culture and history of indigenous peoples.
Fenton also raised the issue of the April 15 vacation day of next year, listed as a day off before a spring break week.
“I believe it’s here because it’s actually what some people recognize as Good Friday,” she told the committee. “It’s a tradition that honors a specific religion, and we don’t give very important days into other people’s cultures,” like Jewish or Muslim religious observances, Fenton said.
She suggested that the committee remove “this unfair practice of removing one religious day, but not the others.”
But, Oren Cass, a newly elected committee member, called it “unfortunate that we have to politicize the school calendar.” Fenton pushed back, saying “nothing in my statement was political; it’s about how we talk about culture and history in our schools.
His motion to remove the designation of Columbus Day and list it simply as a federal holiday was approved 4-2 by the committee.
But, Fenton’s efforts to remove Good Friday as a typical day off have opened up further discussion, as new member Meghan Kirby has pointed out that teachers and staff can view it as a religious holiday, raising concerns. adequate coverage if the official holiday is removed from the school calendar.
“I think it really needs to be communicated and well thought out, and I think it will lead to a logistical nightmare,” said Mary Cherry, president of the Lenox Education Association.
“We shouldn’t prioritize any particular religious holiday,” Fenton said. She proposed that Good Friday be designated as a half-day off next April 15, although Kirby said half-days are “a nightmare” for working parents. The motion was not seconded, leaving the matter unresolved pending further conversation recommended by Fenton, but maintaining April 15 as the day off.
The school calendar was then approved unanimously, with only one change – removing the October 11 designation of Columbus Day but maintaining the list of federal holidays with the school closed.
In other developments at Monday’s school committee meeting:
• The recent college and high school asbestos removal project cost $ 600,000, which will be covered by $ 315 in savings on health insurance as well as transfers from other budget lines, as explained by Deputy Superintendent Melissa Falkowski and approved by the school committee.
Superintendent William Cameron stressed that the school is not “a dangerous place,” based on guidance from the state Department of Labor and Eco-Genesis, the air sampler and planner of the project. The opinion is that it is a “nuisance” only because of the remaining non-toxic traces of asbestos particles on the window sills, he said.
• A summer program will be offered to at least 55 Morris Elementary School students in two-week morning segments, focusing on lower grades and overlapping with afternoon activities planned by the Lenox Community Center in London. ‘school. These students have been identified by their teachers as needing “some extra help to get them through the next year more smoothly,” Cameron said.
• At LMMHS, about 30 students, mostly in college, are expected to take summer classes, two hours per week, July 6 to August 6, in math and English, principal Michael Knybel said.
“It’s not a requirement, but it’s a general reinforcement to give them a head start in their grades so they can approach the fall with more confidence,” he said. A remote option will also be available, he added.
• The reopening of the two public schools in the fall will be normal, based on guidelines from the State Department for Elementary and Secondary Education. It is not known whether students will need to be masked at school, Cameron said, as the status of COVID vaccinations for young children remains uncertain.
Deep cleaning of school buildings will continue, as will the use of hand sanitizers. Distance education will not be an option, according to state guidelines. All teachers are expected to return to the school buildings for in-person instruction, Cameron added.
• Guidance counselors work on plans to help students who have been absent from face-to-face learning for a full year adjust to returning to school if they are having difficulty or having other problems. arise.
• A new Deputy Director, Brent Bette, has been hired for the LMMHS. He is a professor of social studies at Pittsfield High School and hopes to receive a master’s degree in education, specializing in school leadership, from Harvard University this year.
Bette succeeds Brian Cogswell, retiring after 25 years at the school as dean, vice-principal and basketball coach. Cameron called him an “exceptional administrator”, citing his “character and ability to work effectively with students”.