A Message from the Cohasset School Committee

Dear Cohasset Families:

We have had an eventful first six weeks of school, so we wanted to take an opportunity to reach out to families, in an effort to communicate some important information and avoid further confusion on some issues of ongoing concern.

School Committee Meetings Now In-Person AND Virtual

First, the School Committee ("SC") has been meeting in a hybrid in-person/virtual format for several weeks now.  This means that we have returned to full in-person meetings, but continue to offer a virtual participation option, as such a format significantly increased community participation at our meetings and general awareness of SC business.  At the moment, we are holding our meetings at the Willcutt Commons, but it is our intention to establish the learning commons at the Middle and High School as the regular, default meeting location for our meetings.  We do not know exactly when we will move the meetings there, as the timeline is dependent on our ability to acquire the necessary hardware to maintain the hybrid format while in that space. Once we acquire the hardware necessary to move out of Willcutt, it is also our intention to intermittently host regular SC meetings in suitable spaces throughout various school buildings.  For example, if we have a spotlight on learning for a fifth-grade class, we may host a meeting in a suitable space at Deer Hill.  It is important to note, however, that we intend to continue the hybrid format for all future meetings.  This brings us to our next point: technological difficulties.

We are well-aware that there have been technological challenges in connection with our hybrid meetings.  We are actively working to refine the hardware involved and to configure an overall setup that provides optimal video and audio reception.  Obviously, we still have some work to do, which is frustrating for this day and age, but it is a reality that we are both aware of and confronting with haste.  It is unacceptable to have poor reception for those of you watching at home and we will deliver a better product in the future.

School Operations and Pandemic Measures 

Turning to school operations.  While we acknowledge that we continue to face pandemic-related challenges like spacing and masking, we are, overall, very pleased with our operations thus far.  There is a tremendous amount of positive energy within our buildings which, in many ways, even exceeds that which existed before the pandemic.  Overall, our students and staff are clearly very excited to be back with one another every day; curricula are getting back on track, classrooms are starting to look more normal again, and friendships, new and old, are flourishing.  While this is, indeed, generally very positive, it does not, in any way, mean that we are satisfied.  The students and staff are still masked and distanced (which we will address in a bit more detail below) and our new leadership team has, until now, been forced to focus on reactive pandemic triage, as opposed to proactive district improvement goals.  If your family is still struggling with current operations - for whatever reason - we assure you things will improve as the year progresses.  We continue to urge everyone to reach out to teachers, building and district leadership, and the SC with any problems or challenges.

Next, we want to offer some clarification on a few continuing concerns.  Although everyone is very tired of it, masking continues to be required for our district.  Please know that, while each of us may have different individual opinions on the matter, nobody on the SC wants the students in masks for longer than they need to be.  As Dr. Sullivan noted in his recent communication, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ("DESE") recently granted approval that would have allowed the SC to rescind the current masking requirement for Cohasset High School, but that approval was withdrawn at the last minute because our middle and high schools are housed in the same building and, added together, the schools fall short of the minimum vaccination rate.  The shared building was an issue that Dr. Sullivan had anticipated and had expressly pointed out to DESE but, for whatever reason, DESE did not react until after it had already granted the initial approval.  Future FDA approval of vaccinations for younger ages, together with the natural aging of our middle school students, will concurrently work to increase our school vaccination rates, eventually allowing the SC to exempt vaccinated students from a masking mandate.  It will happen, just not yet.

Staff Vaccinations - At our October 20, 2021 SC meeting, Dr. Sullivan shared data relative to vaccinations in our district, and many families seem confused by what some of that data actually meant.  Specifically, many families have expressed concern that, as of Wednesday's meeting, little more than half of our staff were vaccinated, as the staff vaccination attestation rates were in the 50 and 60 percentile range.  This does not mean that only half our staff has been vaccinated.  There is a difference between vaccination rates and attestation rates.  As the President of the Cohasset Teacher's Association ("CTA") explicitly stated at the meeting, according to his polling, 99% of the staff is fully vaccinated.  The attestation percentage only demonstrates the low number of staff members that have responded to the Superintendent's request to formally notify the district that they are fully vaccinated.  Without speculating as to the reason(s) a staff member may or may not have attested to vaccination at this point, we simply wanted to provide some clarification, as this confused multiple families.  

"Test and Stay" ("T&S") - There has been much discussion relative to T&S throughout recent months and we want to provide a bit of clarification, as to avoid any further confusion on the issue.  T&S is different from "pool testing," which is now referred to as "Routine COVID Safety Checks."  T&S was conceived as a mechanism to avoid in-school close-contact quarantine-related absences.  Routine COVID Safety Checks involve random testing as a proactive measure against infection within the buildings.  With T&S, students who are deemed "in-school close contacts," would be exempt from the quarantine requirement and allowed to attend school if they agreed to subject themselves to daily testing for a prescribed number of days.  With Routine COVID Safety Checks, participating students would be randomly tested while in school, regardless of close-contact status.  Student participation in both programs would be voluntary.  The district does not currently participate in either of these programs.  Because we have been able to maintain minimum spacing and have imposed masking requirements, no student in the Cohasset Schools would be a "close contact," required to quarantine as the result of exposure to a COVID-positive individual within the school.  Thus, our district has created a natural "quarantine firewall," without the need to test our students.  As such, T&S could not currently provide any quarantine-related benefit, but it would, however, create another operational distraction for the district.  It is important to note how well our current system is working: so far this year, our district has had zero quarantine-driven absences for in-school close contacts.  Employing T&S would present an additional pandemic-related operational challenge and burden our nursing staff.  Many point to the assertion that T&S is managed by a third-party that the Commonwealth has contracted with in creating the program, so the district would not be burdened operationally in any way.  This is a fiction; not a fact.  By all accounts to date, T&S would still require a meaningful time commitment from nurses and staff for, as noted above, no actual benefit to our students.  Further, the demand for this program Commonwealth-wide far outweighs the available resources, which is one reason why the Governor has recently deployed the National Guard to assist with these efforts.  That said, the district has signed up for T&S, in the event a necessary operational shift (e.g., removing masking and/or distancing requirements) may warrant participation in the program (and in the event the program itself becomes more operationally sound) but, for now, we do not require this program. 

Assessments and Data Sharing with Families.  

Many families have communicated a desire to have ready access to assessment data that is used in tracking a student's academic progress.  The district hears this concern loud and clear and, of course, wants families to have access to whatever resources might be available and useful to them in assisting with their student's education and ensuring their success.  Improving transparency and sharing assessment data is, indeed, part of the recently created strategic plan and the district is actively working to create protocols for the uniform distribution of this type of material.  This type of reporting has never been employed by the Cohasset Public Schools, so district leadership needs time to evaluate what resources are available, how they can be uniformly shared, and how it can share data in a meaningful, easy to interpret manner.  This is, undoubtedly, an important issue, and that importance is reflected by the purposeful, deliberate approach that the district is taking in developing a data sharing protocol.  We know this is important to you, and there will be more developments to come on this front, but please continue to be patient.  We can assure you that there is no part of the district that is seeking to hide, obfuscate, or otherwise keep families from accessing information about their student's education.  If you have any concerns about this, please reach out to your child's teacher, the school principal, Superintendent Sullivan, or any member of district leadership or the SC.  As Dr. Sullivan has stated, the district fundamentally believes families should have access to the information they need and should be actively involved in their student's learning, and it is committed to establishing an effective protocol to realize that objective.   

In closing, the SC has, in recent years, intentionally endeavored to become a more user-friendly, transparent, and approachable body, as to gain important insight and feedback from the community we serve.  We hope that this change has been palpable and, if not, we invite you to share ideas on how we might better serve you.  We maintain a "never satisfied," "always improving" approach to our district and will never stop demanding more for our students and their families.  Education is the absolute foundation for any success and fulfillment in life and, as such, we approach our oversight of the Cohasset Public Schools with reverence.  At the most basic level, we are five parents with multiple students in the schools, and we are all firmly committed to creating a premier school district that produces amazing young adults.  We believe there is no reason Cohasset Public Schools cannot be among the best school districts in the region, and we, along with Superintendent Sullivan and his team, are committed to making that a reality.   

Onward and Upward,

Your School Committee