School Committee Meeting, 15 March 2017

10012015FrenchStImagine for a moment that you are 10 years old, speak another language at home, and as kids sometimes do, have heard the adults in your family expressing concern about Immigration returning you and your family to another country where your life had been one filled with violence and poverty.  Worries about being removed from this new place where you had felt safe might naturally fill your waking thoughts. And those worries would, of course, extend to the place where you, a ten-year-old, spends the greater part of each day: your school. Last night, the Lowell School Committee ensured that, at least within the walls of school, a child whose family’s immigration status might be called in to question could know that they would not be forcibly removed from their school and classmates. While the School Committee’s motion and School Department’s response is reassuring for that child during time spent within the school setting, there is no guarantee of protection outside of it. Whether a 10-year-old refugee can differentiate that remains to be seen.

School Committee Meeting 15 March 2017

5 members present (Ms. Martin absent), Student representative: Onoste Omoyeni

Spotlight on Excellence & Permissions to Enter.

Please refer to packet and agenda. LTC neglected to start the broadcast at the beginning of this meeting.

Motions

Six motions :

  • 6.I. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases. Request the Superintendent provide the committee with recommendations for increasing the compensation of our Substitute Teachers to be competitive in today’s education market along with the data to support such increases.
  • 6.II. [By Jacqueline Doherty]: Request the Superintendent ensure the LPS website is updated, links to packet reports are working, and each school page provides information on its School Site Council members, meeting times, agendas, and minutes along with other relevant school-specific dates, events and information. THIS IS WHERE THE MEETING COVERAGE BEGINS. 
  • 6.III. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent develop a class size policy for Lowell Public Schools that includes current status and goals for all grades K- 12.
  • 6.IV. [By Connie Martin And Robert Gignac] Request that the Administration prepare a resolution for consideration by the Lowell School Committee that clearly defines the district’s commitment to protecting our students, regardless of their immigration status and offers all LPS staff a clear procedure for ensuring that no Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will be granted access to the Lowell Public Schools without the expressed permission of the Superintendent of Schools.

Taking Item 8.7 (resolution) which is the response at the same time. There was mention of a registered speaker, but that person did not materialize. The motion and response found in 8.VII are a response to discussion with Superintendent re families who had received letters from Immigration about their immigration status. Mr. Gignac feels it is imperative that the SC takes a formal position so that students do not feel unsafe or fearful while they are in school.

Mr. Hoey asks Superintendent if this resolution could negatively impact government grants. When the City Council took up the Sanctuary City issue earlier this year, one of the reasons for not supporting such a motion was that the City, highly dependent upon federal funding, could possibly find those funds removed or suspended should Lowell adopt a sanctuary city policy.  Superintendent  states he does not know the definitive answer to this query; however, Dr. Khelfaoui notes that tonight’s policy is reflective of the state policy. Students need to feel safe in schools or they are not learning. Ms. Omoyeni expresses support for this motion on behalf of the students at LHS.  Mr. Gendron also expresses support; Lowell is and continues to be a city of immigrants and we should support them by removing any concerns that these students could potentially be removed forcibly from school during the school day.

Ms. Doherty echoes this sentiment as does Mr. Descoteaux. Superintendent Khelfaoui reiterates that the policy as presented tonight has been in place in the LPSD. It has been vetted by the Police Department and is legally correct.  Dr. Khelfaoui states that this policy is intended to reassure children, some of whom have already received notices from Immigration, that whatever their status, the children can regard their school as a place of safety.

Mr. Gendron reiterates that it is exactly because of the situation at the federal level that Lowell needs to put this policy in writing for peace of mind and safety of students and their families. Ms. Omoyeni also notes anectdotally that there have been some increased absences and it is the moral obligation of our community to ensure that students know they are safe.  Mr. Kennedy notes the difference in the role of the school committee as different from the City Council in creating a sancutary city.  In response to Mr. Hoey’s question about how ICE would know a students’ status, Dr. Khelfaoui responds that there is legal processes in place which prohibit just anyone from accessing students’ school records.

This issue is divisive and complicated and, as I am not a legal expert. I do note that bowing to pressure and threats about loss of funding from the federal government concerns me. Other cities such as Boston – also heavily reliant on federal funds – have taken steps to become sanctuary cities.  Role Call:  5 yeas, 1 abstain, 1 absent – approved

  • 6.V. [Robert J. Hoey]: Request a report from the Superintendent regarding the total cost of security and safety in our schools, including the amount we spend on resource officers, security and security equipment.
  • 6.VI. [By Steve Gendron] Request the Superintendent provide a response to the contract offer from the Lowell School Committee. Referred to Executive Session which follows this meeting.

Policy Subcommittee

Review of Homework Policy and Staff Sick Time.

Ms. Desmond reviews the current policy which is based on number of minutes. She is approaching building leaders to reinforce that homework might be differentiated and evaluated in a more meaningful way.  Mr. Gendron notes that a student has contacted all the Committee members and his wish is that homework is less about quantity and more about making homework a more effective activity. Ms. Omoyeni also speaks to the importance of ensuring that homework is designed to be more than busywork.

The second part of the report was about sick time. This report was intended to provide information to the City. Ms. Doherty noted a motion was made to request Human Resources formalize the policy on staff attendance on purpose. Accepted as a report of progress.

 Reports of the Superintendent

There were 9 items under Reports of the Superintendent.

8.I. Food Service Presentation At Satellite Sites & Food Truck Approval Documents

The food truck purchase would be (partially) reimbursed through the distribution of summer meals. The vehicle would also be used during the school year to transport meals to satellite schools (those without food prep kitchens).

Mr. Gignac clarifies that $14K is returned to Aramark for meals served; $45K costs include personnel in the Food Service Department working through the summer. Questions re re-serving food that has been stored in the (refriegerated) truck. Leaving food in a truck, even if refrigerated is a concern (break-ins). Expresses the opinion that we should fix what we currently have and does not feel that the $14K in administrative fees turned back to Aramark is problematic.

Mr. Hoey asks who is paying for the truck; Dr. Khelfaoui confirms the truck is paid from the “revolving account”, which is also used for other direct costs for the food program. The money originates from the federal government. Mr. Hoey also notes that cafeteria staff is hired to work 3.5 hours daily. Advocates for a 5 hour day.

Ms. Doherty notes the reality of poverty in Massachusetts and in Lowell. Being able to feed students throughout the summer and taking the food to where the children play/are, will lead to a positive outcome.

Regarding food quality, Mr. Gignac notes positive improvements in food quality in a short amount of time.

Providing meals to children throughout the summer is something Lowell should support. When the Commonwealth calculates the “Economically Disadvantaged” student percentage in Lowell at 55%, it is an understatement of reality borne by fuzzy mathematical computation. I taught in several schools where the actual number of students in poverty was over 90%. Those kids are hungry and school meals, as well as food provided by organizations like Merrimack Valley Food Bank, might be the only nutrition they receive.  

In my opinion, expanding food distribution throughout the summer is a moral obligation to help children in need. What I am having difficulty understanding is the fact that the School Department is being asked to purchase a new truck for Aramark. This new truck would be used for summer food distribution as well as delivery of meals to satellite schools during the school year (satellite schools are schools without food preparation facilities). The “administrative” costs for the summer food program is $14,000, which is the cost Aramark assesses for what I understand is overhead at the corporate level.

The new truck will ostensibly be purchased to distribute meals to students “where they are” during the summer months. Those places include program sites, playgrounds, etc.  The new truck will be used to replace 3 smaller vehicles currently in use for school-year meal delivery to satellite schools. Because the truck is bigger and has a refrigeration feature (no warming option), only 2 food service employees will be needed to staff it, eliminating need for one food service employee for 2017-18.  

Roll call to send truck request to bid (4 yeas, 2 nay, 1 absent). Approved. Report accepted as a report of progress.

8.II. Dropout Prevention And Recovery Documents LHS dropout rate reflects the hard work and coordination of efforts PreK-Grade 12.  LHS Dropout rate is 1.8% (below the Massachusetts state average) for 2 years in a row.

8.III. Extracurricular Activities Update Documents

8.IV. K-12 Student Population By Zip Code Documents Ms. Doherty requests the report be referred to Finance/Student Services Subcommittee.

8.V. Management Letter Documents: Mr. Gignac asks about some funds that had been returned to DESE, but then returned to LPS and used for a summer SpEd program.

8.VI. Response To Mayor Kennedy’s Motion Of 02/01/17 Regarding STEM Academy At LHS Documents 

8.VII. Rights Of Undocumented Students And Protocols For ICE Access In Schools

Documents Taken previously

8.VIII. Monthly Financial Report Documents Referred to next Finance Subcommittee Meeting.

8.IX. Response To Robert Hoey’s Motion Of 01/04/17 Regarding Diversity Hiring Efforts

Documents Mr. Hoey requests Anne Sheehy’s explanation of Paraprofessional cohort and the opportunity to obtain teaching licensure. Lowell has applied to offer licensure through a program in the district which would in turn create a pool of diverse candidates for teaching positions. Ms. Doherty spoke to encouragement of students in High School who would be candidates for paraprofessional positions and who might go on to a career as an educator. Mr. Gignac reminds that there is state aid/assistance for tuition through EEC (Early Education & Care).

All approved 6 yeas, 1 absent

All conference requests were also approved.

Following adjournment, the Committee went into Executive Session.

Meeting detail and support documentation  can be found here.

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