METCO Program Director Relays Parents’ Concerns to School Committee

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Several parents of Bedford METCO students are anxious that if there is a Covid-19 outbreak in a school, their children will be blamed,  program director Akil Mondesir told the School Committee Tuesday.

Particularly when the city was a hot spot, “Even with the understanding and appreciation for all of the principals and teachers, a lot of those concerns grew as the parents saw Boston numbers grow,” Mondesir reported.

He never suggested that there was actual finger-pointing. “A lot of my parents truly appreciate all the work by the administration, the School Committee, and the town. They wanted me to make sure this message is relayed to everyone. Their concerns are the same as everybody else’s.”

Committee members were dismayed by the account, and several encouraged Mondesir to approach them with any specific unmet needs. “That just took my breath away,” said Ann Guay. “That really made me pause.” Chair Dan Brosgol commented, “There’s a lot of pain inherent in that statement.” Any scapegoating would be “a community issue,” he said.

He noted that on a television news broadcast, a report indicated that a student from Boston was responsible for an outbreak at a Newton school. School Superintendent Philip Conrad said that the method Bedford uses to report student and staff cases to the state makes it impossible to publicly identify who has the virus. “There are challenges for all of our populations,” he added.

School Committee member JoAnn Santiago noted that middle and high school students don’t have access to lockers this year. Is that a particular hardship for students traveling from Boston, especially with cold-weather gear?  Mondesir said space has been set aside in the high school and middle school for the METCO students to leave coats and other things they carry in the building.

Bus windows must remain open to comply with ventilation protocols, and that often means a cold ride between Boston and Bedford. Mondesir said the METCO bus monitor worked with staff members at Davis and Lane Schools to make blankets for the younger children. The blankets are waiting on the children’s assigned seats on the bus every morning.

This school year, Mondesir said, there are 89 METCO students in the system, of whom 60 are in middle and high school; 27 of those students have been learning in person. Half of the 29 students in Davis and Lane Schools are remote, he said.

In answer to a question from committee member Brad Morrison, the director said Bedford’s percentages are actually more inclined to in-person school than comparably sized METCO districts. That is abetted by the decision to reopen the middle and high schools simultaneously, he noted. That is scheduled for April 26.

Several older students returned to school from the remote model during the year, the director said. “Many parents wanted them to have some sense of normalcy even with a mask on and get into the flow of what education was like.”

“Covid has affected everyone in similar ways,” Mondesir said. “Families struggle with wanting to ensure their students receive their education and want to prevent them from catching the virus and bringing it home. This has been extremely hard for everyone.”

Mondesir outlined the results of a recent survey among METCO parents. He said 62 percent prefer in-person learning, but all are stressing safety from the virus in buses. Many are also concerned about the relaxed distancing rules announced last month by the state education commissioner, he said.

Mondesir saluted the entire leadership team, which has gone “above and beyond to ensure the families had what they need,” ranging from electronics to food. Conrad repaid the compliment, pointing out that Mondesir is continually adjusting bus routes, ensuring that pickup spots are as convenient as possible. “He hasn’t allowed Covid to overshadow his role as someone who is vital to all of our students.”

Committee member Sarah Scoville praised Mondesir for his role in helping coordinate the annual Tenacity Challenge, which took place Saturday. Scoville was one of the judges in the art component.

Her colleague JoAnn Santiago said the committee should return to holding a meeting in Boston as soon as conditions allow. She also called for adding a METCO representative to the School Committee. Mondesir said he is looking for a parent to fill that role. Guay added that the Hanscom Air Force Base community could be included in the position.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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