Opinion: Back to School (with Pens, Backpacks and Face Coverings)

Glenn Mangurian

August 30, 2021 by Glenn Mangurian

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Students are stocking up on supplies including masks again. School districts across the country are grappling with the challenges of providing quality education while protecting the health of students, faculty and staff. While we thought we were headed toward recovery last Spring, the Delta Variant arrived this summer with different plans.

Increasing COVID-19 Cases

Other parts of the country have seen a significant rise in hospitalizations particularly among young people.  Hingham is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The Department of Public Health data published on August 24th indicates a total of 36 new COVID-19 cases reported in Hingham in the two weeks prior.  As a comparison, there were 5 total cases reported in the month of June. As of last week, over 70% of Hingham residents are fully vaccinated (compared to approximately 66% statewide).  If you look at only vaccine-eligible individuals in town (people age 12+), the percent of fully vaccinated eligible residents rises to 83%. Hingham vaccination rates are above the state average for all age categories except for residents 75 and over.

Tough Choices

Last week the School Committee approved a face covering policy for all students, teachers and staff in K-12 grades. The policy was approved after hearing several sessions of community input and learning of the recommendations from the health and education task force. There were impassioned views expressed by parents on both sides of this issue. The next day the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to authorize the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education to require face coverings inside all public school buildings and on public school transportation through at least October 1, 2021. After October 1, if a school demonstrates a vaccination rate of 80% or more of students and staff in the school, then vaccinated individuals in that school would no longer be subject to the State mask requirement. These were difficult decisions for town and state policy makers. There was no single “right” decision that would satisfy the desires of all parents, teachers and staff. The State, like the Hingham School Committee, believes the mask requirement is an important additional measure to keep students safe in school at this time.

Hingham School COVID-19 Recovery Plan Implementation

Earlier this year the Hingham School Superintendent presented the quantified findings on the impact of COVID-19 on student academics & social-emotional functioning. Data indicated student achievement gaps as well as social-emotional functioning deficiencies compared to pre-COVID-19 measurements. All recognize that the hybrid model presented many learning challenges. The increased isolation of children had an adverse effect on many. Hingham School Committee, Advisory Committee and the Select Board recommended approval of the School Superintendent budget increase request associated with his COVID-19 recovery plan. Recognizing the importance of student education and the extraordinary challenges that COVID-19 have created for the students, Town Meeting approved the requested School Department budget increase.  Recovery is not likely to happen in one year. The return to in class schooling will help academic learning but the social and emotional effects of the delta virus on all of us are uncertain. While the recovery measures are important, school administrators will need to monitor progress in all measured dimensions.

Tireless Work by Hingham Town Volunteer Leaders

We are fortunate to live in a community of committed parents, dedicated teachers and diligent administrators.  I wrote earlier this year that Hingham would not be Hingham without hundreds of our citizens who volunteer their time as town leaders and committee members. These are not career politicians. They are the men and women who live down the street and across the road who care enough to deal with the mundane as well as sort through thorny issues with competing, valid interests. I continue to be heartened by how respectful, civil and constructive the vast majority of the dialogue is even among citizens of differing opinions often about emotional issues. This is democracy in action. Our civil engagement is necessary to sustain and grow the quality for the next generation and beyond.

Glenn Mangurian is a Hingham resident of 35 years.  His book, Pushing the Edge of Thought, Possibility, and Action, is available on Amazon.  He welcomes your comments and can be reached at [email protected]

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