School Committee roundup: Students share survey results; enrollment data updated

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Thursday night’s School Committee decision in a 3-2 vote to lift the mask requirement for a trial period for COVID-19 vaccinated students and staff at Hopkinton High School from Nov. 1-19 was big news for Hopkinton and the state. Hopkinton became the first community in Massachusetts to receive approval to make mask use optional for vaccinated individuals.

The committee also discussed several other relevant issues during the two-hour meeting, including the input of the student council members regarding the mask decision and a proposal for a study that might lead to a trail behind Marathon School.

Survey conducted on mask use

HHS student council members Jessie Ianelli and Ryan Darbhanga presented a survey they conducted to poll students’ views on mask wearing in anticipation of the vote.

“Overall, as you can see, most of the students were in favor of going mask optional,” Ianelli said as she displayed a pie chart with the survey results for 740 responses out of 1,216 students. The mask optional policy was approved by 68.4 percent of the respondents, while 28 percent were against the proposal. The remainder either were unsure or did not participate in the survey.

“This is probably the biggest engagement that we’ve ever gotten with a survey at the high school,” she noted. “They have a lot of opinions on this and want their voices to be heard, which is great.”

“This is a very valuable piece of data,” added Darbhanga, noting that most of the time about half of the students respond to surveys. The survey, which was emailed to the student body via Google Forms, also questioned students for the reasoning behind their decisions.

For those opposed to lifting the mask mandate, the biggest reasons were the aid of masks in helping prevent the flu during the upcoming season, as well as exposing their younger, unvaccinated siblings to the coronavirus.

Students in support noted the high town and school vaccination rates, as well as their belief that wearing a mask is a personal choice. Because some stores and venues don’t require mask use, they believed that masks should not be required in school.

Enrollment data updated

Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh presented enrollment data outside of the district provided by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). Twenty-four students attend Keefe Tech, four go to Norfolk Aggie, and another student attends Assabet Valley. Eight students attend charter schools, while another 25 receive their education elsewhere outside the district. The MSBA also captured data on preschool students not usually included in standard K-12 surveys, showing that 81 youth attend preschool.

Cavanaugh said she believed that preschool enrollment would continue to increase, necessitating a sixth class at the Marathon School.

She also told the committee that the projected enrollment numbers for the school year are close to being met. Now there are 4,014 students enrolled out of an anticipated 4,024 for the end of the school year.

The superintendent explained that enrollment is expected to continually increase. There are 4,148 students projected for next year. By 2032, that number is anticipated to explode to 5,892 students.

She also gave an update on the Test and Stay program, which is now in effect in all schools. However, it now is only available to unvaccinated students and staff close contacts. Those who have been vaccinated and exposed but who are asymptomatic are allowed to remain in school. Testing was becoming difficult because of lack of testing staff from CIC Health, the testing provider. This has put a strain on nurses as well as administrators, who have jumped in to administer the tests.

There were two recent COVID-19 cases at the high school, which occurred in unvaccinated students.

School Committee listening series a success

Committee Chair Nancy Cavanaugh said the recent committee listening tour held over the summer was a success, bringing forward voices from traditionally marginalized populations in addressing issues about diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We also heard from a lot of people who just appreciated that there was the opportunity and the interest in the School Committee for hearing from people directly,” she said. Their input will influence upcoming policy and budget goals. Overlapping needs were raised, such as financial needs and language access. Bullying and restorative justice also arose as issues.

“What I heard over and over again was a longing for a sense of community,” said Meg Tyler, who was the only member to attend all of the listening sessions. “I hope going forward that we will be able to reach out to these groups in a way that doesn’t necessarily involve Zoom. Human contact is very much longed for.”

Member Joe Markey added: “People just want to be understood and recognized for who they are.”

Trail proposal discussed

At the last School Committee meeting, the Upper Charles Trail Committee (UCTC) requested support to go forward with a grant proposal for a pre-engineering study for a proposed continuation of the Upper Charles Trail from Milford to Hopkinton State Park. It could potentially be on the buffer of the Marathon School property.

The superintendent expressed reservations about this stretch of the trail.

“I am just a little worried that we would be having people walking behind the Marathon School while we are educating some of our youngest learners,” she said. “My second concern with it is that I’m not exactly sure where it goes through that other piece of property. But I wouldn’t want to be in a position where we would be competing with the trail, should that become a location for the new Elmwood School.”

She questioned whether the UCTC could apply without the committee’s endorsement.

Tyler asked if supporting the study was “subconsciously giving them an agreement” to proceed with the trail once the engineering study is completed.

“I think it does,” the superintendent replied. She noted that if grant money is used to complete the study and the trail is proved to be feasible, denying the project at that point would make it appear as if the study’s work was being undone.

The chair said she was in favor of the project as a whole but asked if the boundary could be pulled away from the school property.

The matter was not on the agenda for a vote. It was suggested that questions be addressed to the UCTC before the next meeting.

Robotics team trip request approved

The request for the Hopkinton Middle School RoboHillers to travel to the Worlds Tournament in Dallas from May 9-12 was approved unanimously.