Optimal Social Distancing in Schools Debated at Board of Health Meeting

Optimal social distancing in the school environment (including but not limited to classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, school buses) was discussed at length at the meeting of the Board of Health on January 4. 

Board member Ann Kiessling, consistent with the position taken at prior meetings, argued that there is no published data that clearly establishes the relative value of 6’ over 3’ of social distancing between students as a way of slowing or preventing virus transmission.  After the Board’s last meeting on December 21 during which the issue was discussed, Kiessling asked that Health Director Heidi Porter and Community Nurse Mark Waksmonski research the question further.   Based on the information they provided, Kiessling noted that “The bottom line is that there are no public studies on the relative value of 6’ vs. 3’ for children…Nobody has looked at it.  Nobody has studied it.  And there is quite a bit of evidence that 3’ of distance is probably ok….I am not advocating either but I am advocating that there is no science that drives 6’ is better than 3’ in a child’s classroom.” 

Board of Health Takes Significant Action in Three Areas

At its meeting on December 21 the Board of Health took three steps directly related to what took place at its previous meeting on December 14:

* Reversed its course on a motion unanimously approved at its meeting on December 14 calling for its inclusion in the meetings and communications of the town’s Covid-19 Task Force.
* Reopened investigation into the question of conflict of interest on the part of Board member Dr. Ann Kiessling
* Discussed and passed a new communication policy to be effective immediately

Board of Health Urges Its Wider Role in Covid-19 Policy Decisions

The Board of Health unanimously approved a motion at its meeting on Monday night that it be “included in all communications and meetings that are being held in the town by town employees relative to Covid-19 and/or SARS-CoV-2.” The motion as finally passed also states that it will be reviewed in 30 days.

Editor’s Note: the Board of Health is a five-member elected board.  The Department of Health and Human Services – often referred to as “the Health Department” is a town department staffed by employees of the town.

Pushback came the next day, on December 15, with an 1,100-word “Statement to the Community,” signed by the leadership of the major town boards and read by School Committee Chair Dan Brosgol at the start of its meeting.  The statement said in part: “While we can always improve communication back and forth with residents, elected officials, and Town staff, we are comfortable as the leaders of this community with continuing under the structure we have in place….In this structure, staff are empowered by us to make decisions with input from a variety of sources, including the relevant boards and commissions that help guide major policy decisions for the town. We…are fully confident in our department heads and staff to make the day-to-day decisions in the operation of the Town and Schools.”  The statement was signed by Brosgol, Select Board Chair Ed Pierce, and Board of Health Chair Sarah Thompson who had voted for the motion calling for a different arrangement at her Board’s meeting on December 14. 

Bedford VA Resident Receives One of Nation’s First Covid-19 Vaccinations

For a small town in New England, Bedford has racked up a lot of firsts.

Like the first annual ceremony to celebrate the first shots of the American Revolution – and the first battle flag in that fight. Or the first municipality to sign on for the state Community Preservation Act. Many people say the Marshalls in the Bedford Marketplace was the first store in the chain.

Here’s another one: On Monday at 12:07 pm, the first patient in a US Veterans Affairs facility received the new Covid-19 vaccine.

Emotional Support Resources for Teachers and Staff through the Counseling Department

Bedford’s public school teachers, bombarded by the exigencies of the Covid-19 pandemic, are actually feeling the love.

That’s according to testimony from the four building principals at last Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Bedford School Committee.

The subject came up during a discussion about resources available to support teachers and staff through the counseling department.

Ann Guay on Bringing Remote JGMS and BHS Students Back into the Buildings

School Committee member Ann Guay offered a creative way at last Tuesday’s board meeting to get more Middle and High School students back into their buildings.

Her idea: a pilot program that would continue the remote portion of the hybrid model, but in the schoolhouses instead of at home.

“Some students are really struggling learning remotely at home, for a variety of reasons,” Guay said. “I want to propose that we think about a pilot program,” if the space is available.

Flu Clinic on Wednesday, December 2 ~ From 2 to 3:30 pm

The influenza immunization is now required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities. The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and ​the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students are expected to have received a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020, for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. 

The Bedford Public Schools in collaboration with the Bedford Board of Health is offering Bedford school students and residents the opportunity to receive a flu vaccine at a designated drive-thru flu clinic that is structured to maximize protection of Bedford residents and staff at the clinic.

School Committee Approves Energy Policy Revisions to Ratify Current Practice

The School Committee last Tuesday unanimously approved two revisions to the town’s energy policy that actually ratified current practice.

One provision is that the town purchase 100 percent renewable energy for operations. Also, as part of the guidelines for construction and renovation, a primary goal is minimizing the use of fossil fuels to run the buildings.

Board of Health ~ Short Takes, 2 November 2020

The Board of Health last week reviewed the implementation of new state policies designed to try to control the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19.

“We saw something coming and we are very grateful for the governor’s leadership to initiate this,” said Heidi Porter, director of the town’s Health and Human Services Department.

“Any time you are in public you will be wearing a mask now,” Porter said, “even if you’re walking around your own neighborhood.” Also, gatherings, including privately, are limited to no more than 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.

Bedford School Department ~ Proposed FY22 Capital Projects

If you’re looking for major school undertakings on the fiscal year 2022 proposed capital projects list, there aren’t any.

The School Committee last week reviewed a short roster of routine capital projects for technology and preventive maintenance. The items are expected to be reviewed by the Capital Expenditure Committee on Wednesday.

Looking Ahead to Bedford’s Annual Citizens’ Caucus and Town Meeting, or Not

Town Manager Sarah Stanton told the Finance Committee last week that her office is beginning to consider the wisdom of canceling the annual citizens’ caucus and postponing annual town meeting by about two months so it can take place outside.

“It’s still very early, and the Select Board and the moderator haven’t weighed in,” she stressed.

The town charter directs that town meeting begin on the third Monday in March, which “would be tough to hold indoors,” Stanton said. “The Select Board and I haven’t talked about it, but in working with the health director the informal idea is to have it potentially in May.”

Municipal Affordable Housing Trust

Bedford renters who have been financially affected by Covid-19, including loss of employment, may now apply for emergency rental assistance grants, to maintain housing stability over the next four months.

The program was approved by the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust at a recent meeting, after consultation with the Select Board. The trust has its own resources, separate from the municipal budget. The first round of payments was capped at a total of $40,000.

Volunteers Needed to Serve on Town Committees

The Town of Bedford is looking for volunteers to serve on Town committees.

If you are thinking about helping your Town, now or in the future, we encourage you to attend a meeting of the committee(s) that you are interested in, then fill out a questionnaire (application form), and submit it to the Town Manager’s Office.

Library Trustees ~ August Short Takes

Although the Bedford Free Public Library isn’t yet able to reopen, the Library staff are using their creative skills to constantly come up with ways to serve you better in these parlous times.

EEE, School Start Times Top BoH Agenda

At their July 20 meeting, the Bedford Board of Health discussed an emergency order regarding reusable bag use, heard updates from community social worker Chris Bang, discussed school start times, and planned for the expected Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) outbreak.