Wellesley schools recap: Bias reporting system under review; masking update; superintendent support discussed

This past week’s Wellesley School Committee meeting (Nov. 9) covered the gamut. Here’s a recap, though view the entire meeting via the Wellesley Media recording embedded below to fill in the blanks…including an update on anti-bullying efforts at the schools.

Bias reporting system on pause

Supt. Dr. David Lussier read the following statement:

“Earlier today I temporarily rescinded the bias-based reporting procedures within Wellesley Public Schools. This temporary rescission gives us an opportunity to fully review and upgrade the procedure to ensure it is both aligned with recent case law, including Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., the so-called ‘cheerleader case’ decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, and protects the important work we are doing here at WPS. In the near future I will provide the School Committee with an amended and updated reporting procedure that strengthens our ability to address and respond to incidents of bias and discrimination in a way that comports with the constitutional protections to which WPS students are entitled. In undertaking this review we renew our commitment to promoting diversity, equity & inclusion within our schools and to providing equal educational opportunities and a safe learning environment for all students, faculty, and staff. We also understand that this temporary decision may impact some of our students, staff, and faculty more than others. We acknowledge that those impacts have educational implications, and that we as educators and administrators need to be mindful of those implications. We also confirm that all district policies regarding bullying, threats, harassment, and discrimination remain in full force and effect. Students who witness or believe they are victims of such behavior should continue to report such incidents of bullying, threats, harassment, or discrimination to any WPS staff member or trusted adult in the district.”

WPS removed content from its “Responding to Bias-based Incidents” page, but it’s still available here.

The bias-based incident reporting procedures have been a hot button issue for those taking aim at the school system’s approach to handling racial and bias issues.

Masking update

The School Committee meeting began with several residents sharing their thoughts on the school’s masking mandate, and a related memorandum of agreement (non-updated version) between the district and teacher’s union. The public has also spoken out about this agreement at a recent Board of Health meeting, raising concerns that the agreement would lock the district into mask wearing throughout the school year even if the COVID-19 situation improves dramatically as younger children begin to get vaccinated.

The state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has extended the mandate through Jan. 15, though some districts are applying for waivers to drop the mask mandate.

Lussier tried to assure the public that the Wellesley agreement will not lock the district in, and that the opportunity for updating masking rules will be available through discussions between the union and school district. “The biggest concern that we’ve heard is whether or not this MoA reflects a mask mandate, that if we agree to it, masks aren’t coming off until the summer, and that’s really not the case,” Lussier said. The agreement reflects the current state, and the fact that the state hasn’t laid out ways to shift away from the mandate, he said.

Director of Human Resources Monica Visco went over a couple of updates to the agreement that make it more clear that terms within the agreement remain open to negotiation.

“Mask mandate next steps” is among agenda items for the Nov. 16 School Committee meeting.

Wellesley parents of young students are trying to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19. Vaccination clinics for 5-11 year-olds to be held this week at Sprague Elementary School filled up fast, and another could be in the offing.

Vote of confidence for superintendent will wait

The School Committee ended its meeting by introducing a draft statement of support for Lussier (embedded below) on the heels of recent calls from some member of the public for him to lose his job in light of how WPS has handled issues such a bullying.

One member of the committee had to leave the meeting early, and one member who was supportive of Lussier wasn’t sure such a statement would send the right message. So the committee decided to hold off on voting.

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